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President of the International Court of Justice Highlights Participation of OAS Countries in the Court

  April 11, 2014

The President of the International Court of Justice, Peter Tomka, highlighted on Thursday the importance of the participation of several member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) in the International Court of Justice in The Hague and urged all region’s countries to consider recognizing the jurisdiction of the world court in the future, during his address at the 54th Lecture of the Americas held at the headquarters of the hemispheric institution in Washington, DC.

Judge Tomka focused his presentation on "The Role of the International Court of Justice in World Affairs: Achievements and Challenges," with special reference to cases involving OAS member countries and the Pact of Bogotá. "It's no secret that American States –particularly those from the Latin America- have been the most frequent clients of the Court since its inception in 1945," said the magistrate of Slovak origin.

President Tomka said “an unequivocal symbiosis -and compatibility- exists between the underlying philosophy of the Pact of Bogotá and the ideals enshrined in the UN Charter”. The Treaty on Pacific Settlement, known as the Pact of Bogotá was signed in 1948 in the Colombian capital, together with the document that gave birth to the hemispheric institution: the OAS Charter. Like the OAS Charter itself, the Pact of Bogotá obliges the High Contracting Parties to settle controversies between the states of the Americas by peaceful means and lists the procedures to be followed: mediation, investigation and conciliation, good offices, arbitration, and, failing that, recourse to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The Slovak lawyer said that since 1991 the International Court of Justice has been more active than during the previous 46 years. He noted that since its inception, the OAS member states have contributed a total of 28 judges to the Court, six of whom reached the Presidency of the body, while five others were appointed Vice President.

In his speech, Judge Tomka talked about several cases of binational conflict involving countries in the region that have been settled in the International Court, or remain unresolved, such as the maritime and territorial dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua; the dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica over a section of the San Juan River; the dispute between Argentina and Uruguay over the establishment of a pulp mill on the Uruguay River; the maritime boundary dispute between Chile and Peru; the dispute between Ecuador and Colombia over chemicals dropped from airplanes to eradicate illegal crops; and the claim of Bolivia against Chile for access to the sea, among others.

Judge Tomka also referred to the case of Avena and 51 other Mexican nationals who have been sentenced to death by courts in the United States, without having had legal advice from the Consulate of their country, as set out in the Vienna Convention. In this regard, Judge Tomka recalled that the General Assembly of the OAS in 2007 referred to the Avena Judgment in a resolution concerning the human rights of migrant workers and their families.

President Tomka highlighted the importance that the OAS member states, particularly the Latin Americans, look to the International Court of Justice for solutions to bilateral disputes.

For his part, the OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, who delivered the welcoming remarks during the event, said that although the International Court of Justice is a United Nations body and the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice of the League of Nations, it has close ties with the Inter-American system. “It was in our region, in 1907, that the first international tribunal was established: the Central American Court of Justice. When it ceased operating in 1917, thought was given to establishing an Inter-American Court of Justice, and the so-called "Peace Code" considered at the Seventh International Conference of American States in 1933 detailed its rules, procedures, composition, and powers. However, when it came to establishing the International Court, it was decided not to move ahead with implementation of the Inter-American Court, the reason being that the countries of the Americas were at that time a majority in the universal system,” he said.

The Secretary General of the OAS agreed with President Tomka about the ties that bind the Pact of Bogotá with the International Court of Justice and stressed the coincidence that underlies the fundamental spirit of the two legal entities. “The birth of the OAS in 1948 was also accompanied by the American Treaty on Pacific Settlement (Pact of Bogotá). In a sense, that treaty brought the Court in The Hague into the Inter-American system”, he said. “The list of cases considered by the International Court to which OAS member states are party and the constant participation in it of highly distinguished American jurists, several of whom became its President testify to our region's commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes,” he added.

Secretary General Insulza said that at present there are three judges on the International Court of Justice from OAS member states: Antonio Augusto Cançado Trindade, from Brazil; Joan Donoghue, from the United States; and Bernardo Sepulveda, from Mexico, who holds the Vice Presidency of the body.

Minutes before the start of the Lecture, Secretary General Insulza received Judge Tomka in his office at the headquarters of the OAS. Secretary General Insulza was accompanied by his Chief of Staff, Hugo de Zela; the OAS Secretary for Legal Affairs, Jean Michel Arrighi; the OAS Secretary for External Relations, Alfonso Quiñonez; and OAS Director of the Department of International Affairs, Jorge Sanin.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The B-Roll of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-145/14