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Judicial Settlement of Armed Conflicts in International Law: Reflecting the 2005 International Court of Justice Decision in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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The duty of states to settle their disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law is emphasized in a number of important provisions enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations (UN) and state practices. Adjudication is one among a range of existing means of pacific settlement of disputes.

This article analyzes the role of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in pacific settlement of international disputes. It critically examines judicial settlement of armed conflicts, taking the ICJ decision in the Case Concerning Armed Activities in the Territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo v. Uganda) as a focal point. The main argument of the author is that while the adjudicatory role of the ICJ as the principal judicial organ of the UN is a crucial method in the pacific settlement of international disputes, it is unlikely to suit armed conflicts situations.

Jurisdictional limitations of the ICJ in adjudication of armed conflicts situations is pointed out. The article points to the preclusion of the Court from adjudicating the other cases brought by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) against Rwanda and Burundi as an illustration of such limitations. It, however, stresses that the very outcome of the 2005 ICJ decision in the Democratic Republic of Congo v. Uganda case is another clear example of such shortcomings.

Without getting into detailed discussions of theories of compliance with international law, the article further discusses the question of compliance with the current ICJ decision in the light of previous state practices. Since there are no established enforcement mechanisms in the international system akin to those in national legal systems, the question whether decisions of international judicial bodies (the ICJ in this case) are complied with remains at the mercy of condemned states. In the final analyses, the author points to the current weaknesses and limitations of the international legal system as a whole in the administration of justice.

Affiliations: 1: LLB Hons (Dar), LLM (Lund), PhD Candidate (University of Joensuu–Finland), Lecturer of Law and former Dean, Faculty of Law, Tumaini University, Iringa University College, Tanzania


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