July 09, 2004

I Have a Question

Does anyone take the World Court seriously? No, really. 'Cause when I hear the words "world court" followed by "the Hague," my immediate reaction is a snort of laughter followed by a "whatever" eyeroll and I'm just wondering if I'm the only person who feels that way.

Of course, that's also my reaction when I hear "UN" nowadays, except that I feel compelled to add "corrupt soulless bastards" to the snort and eyeroll.

Maybe it's just me.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at July 9, 2004 09:53 AM

I'm sure the people who view it as a source of cushy jobs take it seriously as a gravy train. For them, the more irrelevant it is, the more easily they can escape scrutiny of their parasitism.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 9, 2004 10:54 AM

It's not just you. When I see the words "World Court" I reflexively take the opposing position. Something about having a court with no legal authority seems to attract every self-important gas-bag with an axe to grind. If you like vain posturing and useless pontification, you'll love the "World Court".

Now reread that paragraph substituting "United Nations" for "World Court" and you'll have my opinion there as well.

Posted by: LittleA at July 9, 2004 11:09 AM

What LittleA said. (Was going to pontificate, but above poster said it so much better). Best, Terry

Posted by: Terry Reynolds at July 9, 2004 12:37 PM

I do. Take it seriously, I mean. And it hurts to hear it mocked. The kind of news coverage I get is from countries that signed onto it and believe in it, and that obviously informs my perspective. (As I imagine the overwhelmingly negative US coverage informs yours.) Plus I come from the country whose war and state crimes galvanized the very idea of an international criminal court.

Posted by: Katja at July 9, 2004 01:02 PM

No, it is not just you!

Posted by: Marie at July 9, 2004 01:21 PM

My thoughts are more along the lines of "Dictator-coddling Parasites" than "corrupt soulless bastards", but, yeah, about the same.

Posted by: Sigivald at July 9, 2004 03:18 PM

Those who have faith in the "World Court" and the UN seem to assume that since the claimed scope of these organizations extends to all humans (rather than just the citizens of a particular nation), they are morally superior to any national government. This seems to me to be a fairly elementary error.

Was Nazi Germany morally superior to the State of Bavaria merely because its territorial scope was greater? If Bavaria had resisted Naziism, would it have been morally wrong to participate in the Bavarian Resistance merely because a court with pan-German authority said that it was wrong?

This is pretty close to the argument that many "internationalists" are making.

Posted by: David Foster at July 9, 2004 04:40 PM

I think that's a serious mischaracterization, David. Now, I'm not a legal scholar and don't claim any particular expertise in this area. But this would be my response.
First, this isn't about moral superiority, but about application of international law. There are claims of morality inherent in process, for sure, but to call it an issue of moral superiority is to make it sound as if it wasn't an issue of law. As if there wasn't even a law to be a followed.
Second, in terms of ruling over individual states, the international court only assumes authority if the state entirely fails to address a breach of international law that happened in its purview. The assumption of jurisdiction over individual states is not absolute, but conditional on the state seriously failing to try to protect international human rights.
Third, it doesn't have much to do with territorial scope. The court derives its confidence from the laws it follows and protects, from the quality of the procedures with which it does so, and from the number of countries which support its doings. There are many flaws and problems stemming from the internationally mixed bag of legal systems and recognitions, as a variety of people involved with The Hague's court have admitted in the past. It's not an issue of The Hague thinking it's working better than other courts in individual countries, it's in issue of these courts or countries not addressing breaches of international law.

Posted by: Katja at July 9, 2004 06:45 PM

Here's just my comments to throw on the fire...

Right now, the UN is in the middle of a scandal regarding the "Oil For Food" program. Lot of scamming going on. Lot of under-handed activities going on. Lot of stuff that would be considered illegal in the U.S.

Add to that, the countries that appear to have been party to the "Oil For Food" program were the loudest opponents to the ousting of Saddam when the US decided to act.

So what we have here is the appearance that countries were more interested in keeping the scam with Iraq going instead of saying "Hey, butchering your citizens and threatening other countries just because you want to is not okay." It appears as if other countries sold out their legal value systems for the money.

By association with the UN, the World Court, too, comes out not smelling so good. The whole concept of "lay down with dogs, get up with fleas" applies here.

Then there are the 17 UN resolutions prior to the Iraqi war when the world collectively told Saddam to behave or there would be repercussions. Saddam blows off the UN, Bush decides enough is enough, the war takes place, and now Iraq is under the control of a government led by several Iraqis. And NOW the UN says they should go in and help the Iraqi population establish their fledgling government. Apparently the 17 resolutions were just about blowing smoke or beating the world's collective chest.

If the UN turns a blind eye to violations of international law and their resolutions, then why would the World Court do anything different?

The UN may have started 60 years ago to prevent more Hitlers and Hirohitos from appearing, but now it is more about political stroking than trying to do the right thing.

That is my American perspective. And I think we did the correct thing by finally kicking Saddam out of power. And THAT is something you will NOT find in the American news media.

Posted by: di at July 9, 2004 08:24 PM


I'll assume you're serious, although that would make you the first person I've ever communicated with who has any respect for the ICJ.

Suppose I say that I don't rule your life, but only make you do things when you don't do them properly, and I get to decide what is "proper". Who is really in charge, you or me?

Your claim that the ICJ will step in only when a country "fails to address a breach in international law" is identical to the ICJ asserting control over that country, in that the ICJ decides what international law is, what is a "breach", and whether the country has "addressed" it.

My attitude toward the ICJ is not determined by the negative coverage in the media of this country - in fact, that coverage is generally gushing. Big Media in the USA loves the UN and the ICJ. Instead I look at what the ICJ actually does and that's plenty of reason to mock and disdain it.

I won't rant about how completely bogus and contrary to international law and precedent the ICJ's decision is because it would just irritate our gracious host.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 9, 2004 09:00 PM

I take "word count" very seriously - it the most important tool in MS OFFICE.

Oh, hold on...

The point is not whether the WOrld Court is right or not. The point is that the world order is such that some countries are allowed to terrorise civilians (IE Israel) with impunity. The fact that the world court rules on the barrier is irrelevant: the barrier is illegal because the occupation is totally illegal. Israel knows it, America knows it. What successive American governments have done does not make supporting Israel (or Pinochet or Saddam in the 1980s) morally correct.

Posted by: Andrew Riddles at July 10, 2004 02:41 PM

Well it certainly seems like some so-called countries are allowed to terrorize civilians with impunity... and car bombs, and suicide bombers and rockets and everything else the Palestinians can get their hands on, to kill Israeli civilians with.

Posted by: Sgt. Mom at July 10, 2004 03:04 PM

Neither side is right to kill civilians, but the Israeli government has no justification under international law - even that of self defence - to occupy land which is not theirs for 37 years. Terrorists on both sides doesn't make one side right.

Posted by: andrew at July 10, 2004 08:54 PM

Oh, hello...

Pick any African country and you'll find that at some point in their history they have each had a government that terrorized its citizens. Add in some European, Asian, North & South American countries, too.

But more to the point...the UN is sending mixed signals.

Few years ago, the UN okayed Israel occupying the land. Now it's not.

The UN has the Sudan sitting as chair on its human rights committee. Does Darfur mean anything to anyone?

Of course, now I am beginning to understand why the League of Nations went down in flames after WWI.

Posted by: di at July 10, 2004 09:26 PM


Can you name a single nation extant today that doesn't hold its territory by right of conquest?

But if that's not good enough, let's see - before Israel conquered the West Bank, it had been conquered by Jordan. Who conquered it from the British. Who conquered it from the Ottomans. To which of these should it be returned?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 10, 2004 11:12 PM

I notice that Katja is talking about international law. Actually she is talking about international treaties.

My problem with the World Court is that there is no set of legal standards to apply. There is no standard for who can be the judge. There is no method of appealing the verdict if you think it is invalid. There is no standard for who can appear before the court. There is no standard for the appointment of judges. There is no method for determining that the judges appearing on a particular case are not politically involved in that case. There is no method for determining who has standing to bring the case to trial. The way the court is set up it is politically motivated from the get-go and that is a "pi*s-poor" way to run any court.

That is why I am against the court and I think that is the reason that a lot of Americans are against the court. There is no legal there there!!

Posted by: dick at July 11, 2004 04:10 AM

Er yeah annoying old guy. I am not talking about the fact that every country on earth has conquerored land. I am talking about the rule of law. Now, the fact that countries break laws doesn't mean that the situation should persist. I am not sure which country you are from but I assume there are at least some laws in place. If you see laws broken, does that mean all should be ignored? If a whole load of people break the law does that mean everyone should get away with it?

No, of course not. Now the fact that there is one law for Saddam Hussein in 1986 when countries like the US and Britain were backing him in his use of chemical weapons and pre-emptive invasions, and one law for him, 1990 onwards does not mean all international laws should be ignored. Becasue the US reponds to UN resolutions as and when it feels like it doesn't mean the situation is right.

I guess it comes down to whether you think people should be allowed to live in fear and persecution from invading powers, or whether they shiould be allowed self-determination. If people are against self-determination i understand why they are pleased with things as they are, or even less of a world authority.

Posted by: andrew at July 11, 2004 07:02 AM


If everyone breaks a law, but only one person is ever punished for the transgression, I would certainly question the motives of those punishing that person. It's called "selective enforcement" and is generally considered bad for the rule of law. It's precisely why the ICJ is a joke and not a court of law (sorry, BAW, for getting back on topic). Frankly, if I saw one tenth of this fervor with regard to Tibet, I'd take your position a lot more seriously.

I also notice that you didn't answer my second question, which I put in specifically in case you rejected my first point.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 11, 2004 10:30 AM

I agree with what you say about selective enforcement. That is my point. That the US supports the invasion of Iran by Iraq, but not of Kuwait doesn't make either right. The lack of opposition to China's invasion of Tibet doesn't make it correct either.

As to your second question. Jordan stated on 31st July 1988 (I was in the ocuupied territotiries that day) when it relinquished claim to the West Bank and Jerusalem that that it was doing so in order to recognise the PLO's right to form an independent Palestine. Now I am not saying Jordan, after 19 years of occupying the land itself, losing it in a war and then doing nothing to help the Palestinians get it back had any right to the land, to any opinion what happened to it or to try to enforce moral right, as a what was basically an abslute monarchy.

But the Palestinians have a right to self-determination. So the land should go to them. Most Palestinians and Israelis have come to terms with the notion of splitting the land a la the UN 1947 plan (but with the 1949 ceasefire lines).

What do you think should happen?

Presumably if the Palestinians have no right to a free independent state then none of us do.

Posted by: Andrew Riddles at July 11, 2004 12:04 PM


Because my response was so long I've put it on my own weblog. But beyond disputing your claim that the USA support the invasion of Iran by Iraq, my view is that Israel should go ahead and build the wall. Losing territory as a result of starting and losing a war is not only long standing international law, but a great discentive to starting wars.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 12, 2004 11:23 PM

"Presumably if the Palestinians have no right to a free independent state then none of us do. "

Actually, according to customary international 'law', no ethnic or religious group of people has a 'right' to a free and independent state. I was rather shocked when I learned this, but there's nothing in the U.N. Charter, Geneva Conventions or any other recognized "International Law" that says that if you're an ethnic group, you get your own state. Woodrow Wilson opened this particular can of worms in his 13 points. Thanks, Woodrow.
The general gist of the U.N. Charter, though, is that everyone is supposed to be part of some state or another, and thus participate in the United Nations through that state's procedures. The idea of "self-determination" is usually parsed to mean 'gets to take part in elections," even if you always lose them.
The Palestinians have a beef there, since they don't have voting rights in Israel, but the idea that you automatically get a _state_ for your ethnic, religious or cultural group has _no_ foundation in actual law or treaties.

Posted by: MIke Drout at July 13, 2004 10:56 PM