The International Criminal Court

International tribunals provide a venue for adjudicating certain types of international disputes, facilitating the settlement of problems requiring specialized expertise, and resolving disputes pursuant to an international convention, such as the Law of the Sea Tribunal (see below).


"The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.”


Article 41 of the UN Charter gives the Security Council authority to create tribunals to enforce its decisions.

Tribunals also can be created by multinational conventions, such as the Rome Treaty creating the International Criminal Court, or by regional bodies, such as the Court of Justice of the European Union, the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights of the AU, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of the OAS.

International Court of Justice

International Court of Justice (ICJ)

The ICJ was established in 1945 by the UN Charter and serves as the primary judicial organ of the UN. The ICJ settles disputes submitted by member states in accordance with international law (e.g., treaties, customary international law, and established principles of legal interpretation). The ICJ sits in a building known as the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. There are fifteen judges, serving nine-year terms, elected by the UN General Assembly and Security Council. The ICJ’s first case, brought in 1947, involved the right of innocent passage and state responsibility for damages caused at sea. Other significant ICJ decisions include the Nicaragua case on the right of self-defense, and the judgment concerning the Legality of the Use of Force (Serbia).

International Criminal Court

International Criminal Court

The ICC functions as both a court and an international organization governed by parties to its enabling statute, the Rome Treaty. The court began operations in July 2002 as the only permanent court established to hear criminal cases involving individuals. It is independent of the UN, though Article 16 of the Rome Treaty allows the UN Security Council to vote to request a delay of proceedings when deemed necessary to further an ongoing peace process. The court investigates and tries only the most serious international crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.

Special Tribunal for Lebanon/Hariri Tribunal

Special and Hybrid Tribunals

The duty to prosecute serious crimes falls on all members of the UN; this responsibility is stated in multiple treaties and resolutions. The first special tribunals were created ad hoc to deal with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Rwanda (The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, 1994) and in the Former Yugoslavia (The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, 1993). Though the ICC now plays an important role in addressing these crimes, there are cases when member states work with the UN to establish special tribunals in-country to address unique technical issues. These tribunals may include both national and international judges. Examples include the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.


The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)

Established by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the ITLOS came into force in 1994. There are 168 member states. The tribunal is independent of the UN and provides jurisdiction over any dispute, interpretation, or application of UNCLOS or any other international agreements related to the purposes of UNCLOS. The tribunal is based in Hamburg, Germany, and operates in English and French.

World Trade Organization Logo

WTO Dispute Settlement Process

The WTO strongly favors negotiated ends to trade disputes, but it does provide a panel process that functions similarly to a tribunal when parties cannot agree over a violation of a trade agreement. Parties that cannot agree after a required consultation period can submit a dispute to the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), which is essentially the General Council sitting in this capacity. A panel of experts is designated to consider the dispute; the DSB may accept or reject panel findings or the results of an appeal. If a member state does not comply with panel findings (usually to bring domestic law or policy into compliance), the DSB can authorize retaliatory measures by the state that suffered injury.

International Court of Justice Building

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)

The PCA was established by treaty in 1899, making it one of the oldest international dispute resolution bodies still operating. There are currently 122 state parties to the PCA, and each may appoint Members of the Court to serve six-year terms on a roster of potential arbitrators. The PCA shares the Peace Palace with the ICJ in the Hague, Netherlands.

World Bank Logo

The International Centre for Settlement of Disputes (ICSID)

The ICSID was established in 1966 under the World Bank by an international convention to settle investment disputes between states and investors by means of arbitration and conciliation. Member states may name up to four persons of any nationality to the panel of arbitrators and another four to the panel of conciliators. The ICSID settlement process has handled many significant investment cases.