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UNITED NATIONS, United States: An international court ignored by Russia and Israel hampers a dysfunctional global system that sees countries comply with its rulings — or not — based on their own double standards, experts say.
In 2022, the UN’s highest court ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine, which two years later is still ongoing.
In May, he ordered Israel to immediately halt its ongoing military offensive on the southern Gaza city of Rafah.
Do these refusals to comply with legally binding decisions demonstrate a lack of credibility and legitimacy on the part of the ICJ? Not really, according to analysts interviewed by AFP, who instead point to the responsibility of countries within the global system.
Without international police or armed forces, the ICJ “depends on the will and cooperation of states to implement its decisions,” says Raphaelle Nollez-Goldbach, a researcher at France’s National Center for Scientific Research.
“Obviously there are limits to that,” he continues.
The court says that “states respect ‘almost all’ of its rulings, but the few cases of non-compliance – which remain the exception – weigh heavily on international relations,” its press office said in a statement to AFP.
The court is not to blame for this, experts insist.
“The credibility problem is with those governments that basically have double standards,” Louis Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch told AFP.
Some Western countries were “enthusiastic” about the decision regarding Ukraine, but were “seriously concerned” when it came to Israel, he explained.
By contrast, countries such as South Africa – which has launched proceedings against Israel over allegations of “genocide” – “have not been very forthcoming when it comes to Russian atrocities in Ukraine,” he said.
“In order to have credibility, they have to enforce (standards) across the board … for their friends and allies, but also for their rivals and the countries they compete with. Otherwise, they give other governments arguments and opportunities to do the same,” says Charbonneau.
The ICJ’s primary role is to mediate disputes between states, making most of its decisions on mundane issues such as border delimitations or treaty interpretation.
It is important to distinguish between these and the few critical cases that focus on “major international crimes,” says Gissou Nia of the Atlantic Council think tank.
He points in particular to proceedings initiated by third parties – such as South Africa against Israel over its war with Hamas, or Gambia accusing Myanmar of “genocide” against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
An increase in such disputes “could cause states to want to abandon existing treaties” that give those states the power to intervene in disputes in which they are not directly involved.
In addition, many countries – including the United States, Russia, China and Israel – are not signatories to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, another court in The Hague that prosecutes individuals for crimes.
An arrest warrant issued against Russian President Vladimir Putin and a request by prosecutors at the International Criminal Court for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas have sparked outrage from those involved.
Sometimes this was accompanied by pressure and threats of retaliation.
“It’s a reflection of how seriously they take” the court, even those who reject its decisions, Nia says.
For Romuald Scior, a researcher at the French Institute for International and Strategic Relations, the issue of credibility is not just the ICC and the ICJ.
“All the institutions of today’s multilateral system have lost credibility exponentially in recent years,” he says, citing in particular the deeply divided United Nations Security Council.
This in turn affects the credibility of the ICJ – according to the UN Charter, if one side does not respect an ICJ ruling, the other can try to seek help from the Security Council.
As Israel’s offensive on the Rafah continues, South Africa this week called on the Council to enforce the ICJ order.
“In practice, however, the paralysis of the Security Council prevents it from enforcing its own resolutions, let alone the judgments of the ICJ,” notes Said Benarbia from the International Commission of Jurists.

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