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David Nightingale: World Court

This is a brief look at the International Court of Justice, or ICJ, or World Court – which is an organ of the UN, dealing with conflicts between countries.

However, as John Lennon wrote:

Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do ...Imagine all the people Living life in peace … They may say I’m a dreamer...

Well, we don’t live in peace, and have plenty of troubles. From pandemics to political upheavals, to huge pieces of ice breaking off into the oceans as temperatures rise; concomitant weather changes; ensuing wildfires, hurricanes and floods; decades of poisonous gases from cars, trucks and planes – it’s not a very happy world.

So if the whole planet’s in trouble, then there need to be planet-wide solutions, which was long ago realized when the League of Nations was formed in 1920, with an American President (Woodrow Wilson) as a leading architect.

Can there ever be world peace, as dreamers have dreamed?

After WWII, the UN was formed – and it has tried for the past 70 years to tackle world-wide problems, but has often been hampered and blocked by powerful nations with veto power. A descendant from the 1920’s League of Nations is the International Court of Justice. (By the way, the ICJ is not the same as the International Criminal Court that prosecutes individuals for crimes against humanity, and it is not an organ of the UN.) There are 15 judges on the World Court, who serve for 9 years each, with no two from the same country. Typically they are professors of law and legal scholars, elected by the UN. When in session they sit in an older and magnificent building at the Hague, and receive salaries of roughly $175,000 each.

One of the earliest cases before the ICJ was in 1949 – a dispute about fisheries between Norway and UK – and the court’s judges made a decision that is listed as “Judgment on Merits.” And what exactly is such a judgment? According to legal sources it apparently means a decision “based on the facts and evidence disclosed.”

In 1999 there was an important case between Croatia and Serbia, but let’s look at a more recent one, between Iran and the US, a case that is still in progress. There have been different aspects to it, but a recent aspect came about after Trump’s all-too-common disparagement of international cooperation. In contrast to President Wilson, international cooperation is a dirty phrase to him, and apparently throughout his administration.

We can go from Lennon’s [ref.1] imagining a peaceful world – to Pope Francis who has often denounced ‘narrow and violent nationalism’. Quoting from an encyclical [ref.2] Francis has written that an ‘every-man-for-himself worldview ... will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all … worse than any pandemic.’

Meantime, as the ICJ works on frequent cases between countries, I wonder what will happen if, for example, serious clashes arise between two great powers – or even if they would be able to help.

I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one...


1. “Imagine”, by John Lennon.

2.  Encyclical letter: “Fratelli Tutti”, stressing the ‘communitarian dimension of life’ and emphasizing ‘fraternity and social friendship’. As described by E.J.Dionne, syndicated columnist, Kingston Daily Freeman, 10/6/2020.

Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at NewPaltz and is the co-author of the text, A Short Course in General Relativity.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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