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The International Court of Justice (ICJ), often referred to as the World Court, is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN) and was formally established by the Charter of the United Nations in 1945 under articles 92–96. The ICJ is the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) established in 1920 by the League of Nations to address the issues raised after the cessation of World War I.
The ICJ is located at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, and is the only body of the UN not located at UN headquarters in New York. The statute of the ICJ is similar to that of its predecessor and is the main constitutional document regulating the court.
The court operates in two official languages, French and English, and all judicial activity is published in both languages. The ICJ as such has no criminal jurisdiction, and consequently it cannot try individuals charged with war crimes; these cases fall to national jurisdictions and to criminal tribunals established by the UN.
Jurisdiction is often a crucial question for the ICJ, whose key principle is consent. The issue of jurisdiction is considered in only two types of ICJ cases: those pertaining to legal disputes submitted by member states on contentious issues, which often pertain to boundary disputes, and the provision of advisory opinions on specific legal questions raised.
Unlike contentious issues, an advisory opinion is an opportunity for a UN member or agency to address a question before the ICJ. The court typically seeks out useful information pertaining to questions raised and provides a forum to present such questions. A nonbinding opinion on the matter is then published to the UN member states.
Under article 93 of the UN Charter, all UN members fall under the court's statute. Non-UN members may also become parties to the court's statue under article 93(2). The court comprises 15 judges elected to nine year terms by the UN General Assembly and Security Council, with only one judge per any nationality sitting at one time on the court.
Judges sitting on the court do not represent their respective countries and are free to vote against their national self-interests in pursuit of the goals of the UN Charter. Sources of law applied by the court include using international customs and procedures, current conventions and treaties, judicial decisions and teachings of highly qualified individuals, and application of general principles of law recognized by civilized nations.