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'World Court' gains new judges and Russia loses seat with U.N. election

The election adds only the sixth female judge and denies Russia a seat for the first time in the court's 77-year history.

The Hague, Netherlands is home to the 'World Court'
The Hague, Netherlands is home to the 'World Court' (AN/Alix Greenman/Unsplash)

UNITED NATIONS (AN) – Four new judges won seats and one judge was re-elected to serve in the U.N.'s top judicial body, while a Russian judge failed to win re-election.

The elections on Thursday in the United Nations' General Assembly and Security Council at the U.N. headquarters in New York determined the makeup of the International Court of Justice.

Four new judges were elected to the court: Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo Verduzco of Mexico; Bogdan-Lucian Aurescu of Romania; Dire Tladi of South Africa; and Sarah Hull Cleveland of the United States.

A fifth judge, Hilary Charlesworth of Australia, won re-election. Another judge, Kirill Gevorgian of Russia, lost his bid for another term. Three other candidates from Congo, Egypt and Zambia were also not selected.

It is the first time Russia has not had a seat on the court since it began operating in 1946. The ICJ is considering several complaints against Russia in its full-scale invasion and war against Ukraine since Feb. 24, 2022.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the election as a step by the world body "to cleanse itself of Russia’s malicious influence."

"For the first time in U.N. history, its member states denied Russia the right to administer justice on their behalf in the International Court of Justice," Zelenskyy said. "The world sees who destroys international law instead of protecting it. Congratulations to representatives of Australia, Mexico, Romania, South Africa, and the U.S. for winning votes."

The court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, has 15 judges elected to nine-year terms. Each can be re-elected if they want to keep serving. All are chosen based on qualifications but most come from different countries.

A 'historic gender imbalance'

Elections for five of the ICJ's judges occur every three years. The new terms for the latest five winning candidates will start on Feb. 6, 2024.

The five winning candidates won majority support during the first round of balloting in the 193-nation General Assembly, but it took five rounds in the 15-nation Security Council.

To gain election, candidates need at least 97 votes in the assembly and eight votes in the council. All five candidates must win a majority in the same round.

Established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations, the court settles legal disputes among nations and gives advisory opinions on legal questions from other U.N. bodies.

"The court’s contributions to the peaceful settlement of disputes and its work as a guardian of international law has never been more important," said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The top U.S. diplomat congratulated Cleveland, a professor and international law scholar, on becoming the sixth female judge and second American woman ever elected to serve in the court’s 77-year history.

"Professor Cleveland’s election," Blinken added, "also helps rectify the court’s historic gender imbalance."

Prior to the election, the court had five female judges in its history compared with 106 male judges.

Currently, four of the 15 judges are women, including Charlesworth and the court's president, Joan Donoghue, an American lawyer and international law scholar who will depart when Cleveland joins the bench.

In a notable recent case, the ICJ in Jan. 2020 ordered Myanmar's government to do everything it can to prevent more atrocities and genocide against the nation's Rohingya Muslim minority of hundreds of thousands of people. Gambia brought the case against Myanmar.

Also that year the ICJ ruled it has jurisdiction to settle a border dispute going back to colonial-era claims over a resources-rich jungle region between Guyana and Venezuela.

And in March 2022, the court ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine in a preliminary decision that was legally binding yet mainly symbolic because there was no direct means of enforcing it.