Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Aspiring States at the International Court of Justice
by Tabak, Shana, LL.M., The George Washington University, 2015, 75; 1597578
Abstract (Summary)

International law is arguably no longer dominated by a state-centric approach. Non-state actors, such as international organizations, NGOs, or multi-national corporations, play a significant role in today’s changing legal environment. The state-centric approach to international law is perhaps most embodied by the law and practice of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a tribunal where only states have standing. Yet, in a procedural shift out of character with the ICJ’s state-centric approach to international law, in two recent advisory opinions the Court has allowed non-state actors procedural access through oral and written submissions. With this paper I question why the Court has broken with previous procedure in order to include these actors in its process. I further explore whether these procedural moves are linked to the substantive outcomes of these opinions, focusing on the right to self-determination. I conclude that this rupture from orthodox practice is representative of the Court’s endeavors to maintain legitimacy in a world of rapidly changing international law, in which the balance between self-determination and territorial sovereignty continues to evolve.

I introduce the term “Aspiring States” to describe non-state actors within these groundbreaking advisory opinions, including Kosovo and Palestine. Aspiring states refer to a sub-group of non-state actors who do not meet the legal criteria for statehood, yet which aspire to do so. These territorial entities may be under the governance of sovereign nations, yet they aspire to exercise their right to self-determination and to establish separate, independent states, free from the control of their parent nations. Aspiring states, though often characterized as non-state actors by scholars and jurists due to their lack of membership in the club of statehood, in actuality share more similarities with states than they do with non-state actors such as NGOs or multi-national corporations.

The elusive right to self-determination plays a central role in each of these advisory opinions. Although on numerous occasions the ICJ has evaluated the right to self-determination of peoples, it has hesitated to create positive law outlining the scope of this right. Enforcement of the right to self-determination has long been viewed by scholars and by states as an existential threat to states’ right to sovereignty. Thus, adjudication of the right to self-determination creates a paradox for a Court reliant on the centrality of the state.

The legitimacy of any judicial body is undermined when it adjudicates issues that affect the rights of actors who are not parties to the dispute underlying the adjudication. The ICJ has confronted this tension when addressing the right to self-determination in a variety of contexts. Although the ICJ may historically have been a bastion of the state-centered approach to international law, in the advisory opinions regarding Kosovo and Palestine, the Court—overtly in procedure and subtly in substance—has grappled with this paradoxical position of aspiring states within modern international law. Treatment of aspiring states in these instances is markedly distinct from the Court’s treatment of other aspiring states in previous situations in which it contemplated the right to self-determination.

I observe that the Court has done procedurally what it is not yet ready to do substantively: In allowing aspiring states access to the court within the context of advisory opinions, the Court is positioning these non-state actors as if they were states in contentious proceedings, functioning as the essential adversaries of their parent nations. This procedural move does not, of course, bequeath aspiring states the title of statehood. These opinions have far-reaching import within the international community, which may ultimately lead to full recognition of aspiring states as states.

With this article, I first offer a descriptive account of the instances in which the ICJ has created the procedural space to allow aspiring state actors a role at the Court through the advisory opinion mechanism. Second, I analyze the Court’s choice and subsequent impact on proceedings by exploring various explanations including the Court’s need for fairness, the need for accurate information, and potential statutory explanations. Third, I propose that the Court’s ruptures with procedure in the aspiring state cases are best understood through a legitimacy framework. Although legitimacy concerns pull the Court in multiple directions, I propose that legitimacy rooted in democratic theory explains the Court’s favorable procedural treatment of aspiring states. Finally, I explore the normative implications of these procedural choices on the Court’s substantive analysis of the balance of a people’s right to self-determination, shedding new light on the Court’s jurisprudence on a controversial and much-contested topic.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Goldfarb, Phyllis
School: The George Washington University
Department: Law
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: MAI 55/01M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Law, International law
Keywords: International Court of Justice, International law, Kosovo, Non-state actors, Palestine, Statehood
Publication Number: 1597578
ISBN: 978-1-339-00956-8
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