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International Court of Justice: A look into the self-professed ‘weirdest committee’ of Model UN

Updated: Jul 9, 2022

Alexandra Nisbet for The Wall Street Journal

At first glance, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) seems like any other committee. Peering into the room on Day One, it just looks like any other group of delegates sitting in a circle headed by a talented chairperson and special rapporteur. However, it is much more than what it looks on the surface.

Myself and a few other delegates had the honour of sitting in on the International Court of Justice’s advisory board meeting as they discussed international law in relation to declarations of independence, in the context of advising on the independence of Kashmir. The ICJ settles disputes between states in accordance with international law and gives consultative judgements on international legal issues. Delegates discuss a 14-page dossier while trying to come to a consensus on 4 questions related to the independence of Kashmir. In the ICJ, they represent themselves and their own opinions as international justices instead of representing their country's delegations. Judges must come to advisory decisions based on international law and must value the law over human rights or other politics.

Model United Nations committees often involve spirited debates with other delegates, strong “for” and “against” opinions and calculated points of information designed to poke holes in opposing arguments. And of course, there is nothing wrong with that (under the assumption that it’s being conducted in a respectful way in the spirit of Model UN). This is what I expected to find in the International Court of Justice. Instead, the day one International Court of Justice was a relaxed and unpretentious environment where judges conveyed their opinions to their peers in an open-minded, calm and eloquent manner. Not to say the discussion was not passionate, because it was, but it was refreshing to see a committee working together towards a common goal and decision in which they could all find merit instead of fighting against each other to ‘win’ the debate.

There was participation from all 14 judges and they were all articulate and well-informed. Plenty of healthy and persuasive discussion without hostility, as well as an abundance of laughter and Brownie M&Ms. Judge Petherick stating that the idea of Kashmir qualifying for statehood as one region would be a “completely ridiculous statement” was the harshest thing said throughout my observation of the committee, and it wasn’t even pointed at a specific judge. Overall, the discourse was very polite and efficient in making progress.

At the end of the session, the advisory court presents their final opinions on what the court's judgement should be, and the decision of the majority will be the final decision of the court. Ultimately, the esteemed judges of the International Court of Justice did come together with a general consensus on the court's ruling. It was a pleasure to witness their decision-making processes and gain more insight into how the International Court of Justice works. I believe all Model UN delegates could take inspiration from their demonstrations of compromise and collaboration in order to reach the final resolution.

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