22 Apr UN Reform: How about the ICJ?
While we are thinking about U.N. reform, maybe we should think about reforming or even gutting the U.N.’s chief judicial organ: the International Court of Justice.
The ICJ announced this week that it has undertaken certain re-shuffling of its chambers. This appears to be pretty minor stuff (I never even knew they had a chamber for “summary procedure”), but it does make me wonder whether the ICJ has considered more aggressive reorganization to make themselves a bit more efficient and effective. The measures the ICJ announced last July seem almost hilariously minor because they are all directed at state-parties rather than the Court itself.
After all, the ICJ has 15 judges and they hear a ridiculously few number of cases a year. If you look at their docket, for instance, there are currently 12 cases pending or under deliberation. But this way overstates the amount of work they are doing. Last year, they issued exactly three judgments, and one was an advisory judgment. They held public hearings in four cases. Whew! What a busy year!
And not all the blame goes to the states for not filing cases. A number of the ICJ’s pending decisions have been “pending” for over 5 years! (See here and here for examples). Now maybe the states themselves have held up the resolution of those cases, but this means that the ICJ’s current workload is even lighter than it appears. It appears, in fact, that there is a job out there with better hours than being a law professor. Where do I apply?
All of this suggests that the ICJ (like the UN Human Rights Commission (thanks to Peggy for pointing out my original post’s acronym of UNHCR is inaccurate)) is one of those fancy-sounding international institution that doesn’t really matter very much. As Prof. Eric Posner argues here, it mattered little in the past, and even less today. Trends in U.S. legal scholarship, especially the Anne-Marie Slaughter inspired movement to shift attention away from formal international institutions to “networks of global governance” reinforce this feeling that formal internationalism is increasingly irrelevant today, even among international legal scholars.
I suppose if this is true, then perhaps UN reform should focus on those institutions that appear to matter more (I trust Kenneth Anderson or Peggy will tell me which ones) and junk the ones that don’t seem to serve much useful purpose. Now that would be ambitious reform.