MUN International Court of Justice (ICJ) – Introduction
Are you panicking because you are not a law student and have been allocated a position in an ICJ committee? Alternatively, are you a law student, but you have never even heard of the ICJ and do not know what to do? Don’t worry, we have your back! Whether you deliberately chose a spot in an ICJ committee or you found yourself there because your head delegate needed to give it to someone, here you will find all the information you need to succeed in an ICJ!
What is the ICJ?
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). The ICJ was established through the UN Charter in 1945 ,designed as an improved successor to the Permanent Court of Justice (PCIJ) which fulfilled a similar (but not such a strong role) within the League of Nations. The first President of the ICJ was elected on 1st April 1946, and the first public sitting took place on the 18th in the same month. The ICJ’s first case, the Corfu Channel Case, was submitted by the United Kingdom against Albania in 1947.
The Court’s primary task is to settle international disputes between states (and only states). If this sounds confusing, bear with me. As we are talking about relationships between states, we are consequently also talking about disputes about international law. A dispute, therefore, does not mean more or less than the circumstance that two states have an ongoing disagreement about a matter of law. Often states have opposing views about, e.g. what a specific clause in a treaty means or whether one state violated the rights of another state by a specific action. Either way, you will receive a study guide in which the case (and therefore the dispute) is explained.
For now, however, we need to clarify one more thing: It is essential to note that the ICJ is NOT a criminal court. Please do not confuse it with the International Criminal Court (ICC) which would indeed hear cases where an individual was accused of a crime. The ICJ hears disputes between states and does not have the jurisdiction to adjudicate anything else.
All member states of the United Nations are automatically parties to the ICJ Statute; however, that does not mean that the ICJ automatically has jurisdiction over these states. It only means that this state is entitled to participate in the Court’s proceedings. For the ICJ to have jurisdiction states need to submit to the jurisdiction of the court one way or another, this question will be explored a little bit further below.
What positions are available in an ICJ committee?
The Court is comprised of 15 Judges and representatives of both the Applicant and the Respondent. Judges in the ICJ have the task to listen to the presentation of both parties. They have to remain neutral until the end of the public proceedings. They are allowed to ask questions to both parties, but they cannot investigate themselves. Ultimately, the judges “just” have to answer the questions the Applicant asked in the application. Having listened to the arguments presented and the evidence submitted, they determine what the law says by applying international law to the case at hand. It is important to note, that the ICJ does not have the power to create law – it will, however, determine what the law says.
The Counsel for the Applicant presents the legal views of the country that brought the case to the Court. Consequently, the representatives for the Respondent presents the views of the state that has been accused of the wrongdoing. If you want to find out more about the roles and what you can do to prepare for them, continue with the next section.
How does a MUN ICJ work?
A MUN ICJ is more like a moot court than a “normal” UN committee. If you ask yourself now “but what is a moot court?!” – Do not worry; it is just a simulation of a court. Similarly, to MUN which is a simulation of a specific UN committee. The apparent distinction is that a moot court follows procedural rules that are similar to the ICJ, which is a judicial body rather than a political one.
Two scenarios determine what the committee will do throughout the conference:
1) The Presidency chooses to hear a case that is based on a legal dispute between two states
2) The judges are asked to give an advisory opinion
The first scenario is arguably the more common one and has been talked about in this article already. An Advisory Opinion, on the other hand, is legal advice various institutions of the United Nations can demand. As opposed to judgments, this advice is not legally binding. For the proceedings, it should, however, not make too much of a difference. Even when asked to deliver an Advisory Opinion, all states that have a stake in the matter will be asked for their statements and consequently will have Advocates present. For the sake of simplicity, we will labor under the assumption that the ICJ will deliver judgment and not an advisory opinion (the advice in this article will reply to both).
ICJ Rules of Procedure
While different conferences will use different rules of procedure, they will have a common denominator. Usually, proceedings start with the Chairs (often called President and Vice-President in the ICJ) opening proceedings and calling the Applicant to present their case. As we have learned already, there are different roles participants of a MUN ICJ can partake in. The ApplicantApplicant in this scenario refers to the Counsel (i.e. the legal representation) of the state that brought the case in the first place. Delegates can apply for this position, and it is usually filled by two or three people who work in a team. They have to argue why their state is in the right and give a legal reason for it.
The respondent, that is to say, the legal representative of the state that has been accused of a breach of international law needs to argue why their actions indeed have not been a violation of international law. Similarly to the ApplicantApplicant, they need to find legal precedent and legal sources to support their arguments.
Both parties will usually have the opportunity to submit evidence – either in written form, such as treaties, correspondence or advice given by legal experts or they can choose to call witnesses. Bear in mind, however, that the ICJ is NOT a criminal court, witnesses are not supposed to give an account of what happened as much as give expert, specialized advice. Witnesses are, therefore, not necessarily helpful. Again, it will depend mainly on how the presidency of your ICJ wants to run their committee. Often, they prepare an evidence pack beforehand – sometimes they might provide a list from which both Counsel teams can choose.
MUN ICJ proceedings: This is what happens
The Applicant delivers their opening statement, which can last from 15 to 45 minutes depending on the local rules of procedure. Either during or after (or both) judges are invited to ask questions. Opening statements of both parties usually include a statement of facts, an account of what happened according to their position, and most importantly, legal arguments as to why they are in the right. The opening statement sums up their position and will already reference what they will later on argue. It is, however, only supposed to be a taster – the statement is not supposed to dive into detailed legal arguments yet. The Council will want to mention the evidence they want to present and why that is significant or introduce the witnessed they want to call. After the Applicant has finished and answered all the questions, the Respondent has the chance to deliver their opening statement. This should take the same amount of time.
Having concluded their opening statements, both parties need to prepare for their respective rebuttals. Usually, they will receive some time to do this, but again, this depends on the Presidency. The rebuttal takes up most of the oral proceedings and allows both parties to dissect each other’s arguments. It is also the time for introducing evidence and building their own case. Again, the Applicant will start. It often makes sense to try and balance both making one’s arguments and refuting the points made by the opposite side. This stage of the proceedings also relies on active judges – having heard the opening statements of both parties, they will now want to ask as many questions as they can.
Unsurprisingly, the Applicant has the chance to present their rebuttal first. It is designed to be one coherent statement that can be readout. Instead, the rebuttal should tell a tale that includes not only detailed legal analysis but also explains why the other side has it wrong – and that while doing all of this, it also leaves room for introducing the evidence. If this seems daunting now, please do not worry. It sounds much scarier than it is. As an Advocate, you need to plan and make sense of what to do in what order. If your arguments are building on each other, do not rip them apart, leave them in the most logical order and build the evidence around it.
Once the Applicant has concluded their rebuttal the Respondent can start theirs. It should roughly take up the same amount of time and follow a similar pattern. Keep in mind, that while there is a strict order, both sides may question witnesses and make statements on submitted evidence. That means, that when the Applicants call a witness, the Respondent may also question the witness once the Applicant does not have any further questions and the other way round. The same goes for submitted evidence; once the Respondent has introduced a piece of evidence and made a statement, the Applicant may also give a statement.
It might surprise you that we haven’t talked much about the judges yet. This is because their big tasks comes at the end of the proceedings. Once both parties have concluded their rebuttals, there will be a break to give judges an option to compile any questions they have for both parties. This last questioning session might take a while and can expand to things the judges may think are relevant, but which have not been mentioned yet. Once this stage of the proceedings is over, both parties may prepare a closing statement.
Closing statements are supposed, to sum up all the arguments. While this might seem obvious, it might be trickier than you anticipate. Usually, they last anywhere between 10-20 minutes and may not under any circumstances reference anything that you have not yet argued. Closing Statements are challenging to deliver because they require the Advocates to sum up the entirety of their case in a short, brisk and easy to follow the statement. This is the last thing you will say to the judges – so make it memorable.
The delivery of the closing statements marks the end of the oral proceedings. Counsels will be dismissed, and the judges will begin their deliberation. They need to answer the questions the Applicant asked in writing when instituting proceedings. Usually, these are three or four questions. Deliberations will usually take up at least half a day, as they also include writing the judgment. If you are concerned about the form, do not worry – the Presidency will help you with that. As a judge, all you need to do is to determine what the law says. I know, it is daunting, but the bright side is that you will not be alone. You have 14 other judges and the Presidency that will help you.
Are there different types of ICJ?
There is only one International Court of Justice which should, apart from utilising different rules of procedures, be the same in different MUNs.
Are there other types of MUN legal committees?
There are several standard legal committees. The one “normal” MUN committee would be GA6 – the legal committee of the UN. It functions like other MUN committees but naturally differs on the content. It is the General Assembly’s primary forum for legal questions, and while every UN member state is entitled to representation on the committee, usually these representatives are legal experts. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating committee, and you should consider applying for one if you would like to slowly get into legal committees (or prefer a debate over a court session).
Other legal committees could include other courts such as the International Criminal Court, or International Tribunals. In principle, MUN conferences could simulate any International Court or Tribunal.
What are the differences between different types of MUN legal committees?
There are a few different types of legal committees. The most common are the ICJ, ICC and GA6, though in principle MUN conferences could simulate any International Court or Tribunal.
The ICJ hears cases concerning Public International Law.
The ICC hears cases concerning International Criminal Law and determines individual guilt or innocence. The procedure will also vary because a criminal court follows very different procedural rules that are more focused on witness’s testimony, sometimes involving cross-examination.
The GA6 is a “normal” committee, namely the sixth General Assembly committee. GA6 utilizes the standard Rules of Procedure and only differs from any other General Assembly in terms of the topics they simulate.
The potential other Courts differ in their competences and jurisdiction with the rules and competences researched on a case by case basis.
What do I need to prepare for ICJ?
The obvious answer is, you need to familiarise yourself with the case. Read the ICJ MUN guide provided by the conference, look at the bibliography and the further reading section. Depending on your knowledge about International Law, you need to read quite a bit. If your ICJ hears a case that has already been decided, look up the original judgment. Read its summary as well as the merits, and the separate and dissenting opinions.
In order of importance, look up the evidence. Start with what is in your ICJ study guide and then continue to your own research. What do the treaties say? Look up the general rules of interpretation: Have a look at the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and familiarise yourself with the rules of interpretation. Look for relevant journal articles. Ideally, your Presidency should have given you an excellent overview in the study guide and have provided you with all the information you need. In order to excel, however, you need to go the extra mile. Do look up the further reading, familiarise yourself with both side’s arguments. What did the ICJ say in the past? If they have not heard that very case, they might have heard a similar one – look it up!
In conclusion, the best you can do is read and familiarise yourself with the law and legal scholarship.
How to write a position paper for MUN ICJ?
In most conferences, you will not be asked to write a position paper. Particularly because judges have to stay neutral and therefore may not voice an opinion on the merits before the end of the oral proceedings when they discuss the case with the other judges in a non-public way For judges, the ICJ equivalent to position papers might be, however, an essay question on an abstract legal concept that is supposed to help you understand the relevant law for the case.
For Advocates, some conferences might also require the opening statements of both parties before the start of the conference. Should this be the case, it would be useful to include proper citations of legal sources.. (Keep in mind that it is highly unusual to let the Counsel just bring their own evidence. However, they will need to cite their legal sources). If unclear about what to write or how to contact your Chair for exact instructions.
Examples of MUN ICJ topics
As mentioned before, the ICJ can be asked to hear two different scenarios. The first option is a legal dispute between two states (or a contentious case). The second is to deliver an advisory opinion. Below are some examples of MUN ICJ cases that have, in the past, been adjudicated by a MUN ICJ committee.
Examples of legal disputes:
Jadhav (India v. Pakistan), 2019
Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean (Bolivia v. Chile) 2018
Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan) 2014
Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (Germany v. Italy: Greece intervening), 2012
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium), 2002
Examples of MUN ICJ Advisory Opinions
Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, 1996
Accordance of International Law of the unilateral declaration in respect of Kosovo, 2010
Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelagos from Mauritius in 1965, 2019
How to get good at ICJ?
You get good at ICJ, when you put in the work. As with anything of quality, there is no easy way or shortcut to getting good at ICJ. You need to do your research, and you need to be able to string a legal argument together. As a Counsel, you arguably will have to do more before the conference, because you need to plan and prepare. Either way, you need to be familiar with the case and the legal questions the Applicant asked.
You do not need to read the entire judgment.
ICJ judgments are notoriously long and compartmentalized into various sections (a single judgment can be well over 1000 pages!). Look for the sections that matter to you, search the judgment for the relevant parts and concentrate on the merits. Use the summaries and the headings for guidance. The questions asked by the Applicant* will reflect what is most relevant in them – this is what you should focus on. The most important thing is that you understand how legal sources are evaluated and that can be learned from these judgments (or many other legal textbooks).
*Applicant the person who is applying for a legal remedy to a problem.
Resources to use for a MUN ICJ
Website of the International Court of Justice
For general information about the ICJ as well as information about all previous and current cases of the ICJ: https://www.icj-cij.org/en
For thematic research:
Treaties and other written legal sources
UN Treaty Collection: https://treaties.un.org
Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (MPEPIL)
General Editor: Rüdiger Wolfrum, Director at the Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law; former Director at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law
The encyclopedia contains 1,700+ peer-reviewed articles on every aspect of the substance of international law.
Oxford Bibliographies provides you with research guides and annotated bibliographies
Hein Online provides a good overview of International Law Journals
Boyle, Alan E., and C. M. Chinkin. , ‘The Making of International Law’, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007
Evans, Malcolm D. , ‘International Law’, Fifth Edn, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018
Klabbers, Jan. , ‘International Law’, Second Edn, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Shaw, Malcolm N. , ‘International Law’, Eighth Edn, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017
Should I do MUN ICJ?
ICJ’s are not only for seasoned law students; they can be fun for everyone! After all, all diplomatic and political relations are based and grounded in law. ICJ’s should be accessible to everyone, and everyone in the MUN world (and in politics) should at least have a basic understanding of the law.