United Nations

UN Documentation: International Law

Courts and Tribunals

There are a wide variety of international courts and tribunals that have varying degrees of relation to the UN.  

These range from the ICJ, which is a principal organ of the organization; to the ad hoc criminal tribunals established by the Security Council; to the ICC and ITLOS, which were established by conventions drafted within the UN but which are now independent entities with special cooperation agreements. Other international courts may be completely independent of the UN.

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the UN. 

The Court’s role is to:

  • settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted by States
  • give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized UN organs and specialized agencies.

International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is an independent judicial body with jurisdiction over persons charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.  

The ICC is not part of the UN

Relationship with the UN

  • Article 2 of the Statute provides for the ICC's relationship with the UN.
  • The UN-ICC Relationship Agreement governs the cooperation between the two organizations
  • General Assembly resolution 58/318 approved the Relationship Agreement between the UN and the ICC, found in document A/58/874 + Add.1.
  • The UN Security Council can refer certain situations to the Prosecutor of the ICC, in accordance with Article 13(b) of the Rome Statute and Chapter VII of the UN Charter

Ad hoc Criminal Tribunals

The UN has been involved with several tribunals established to bring justice to victims of international crimes. The Security Council established two ad hoc criminal tribunals, the ICTY and the ICTR. The UN has also been involved in various ways with the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), and others. Though the UN continues to be actively engaged in transitional justice and rule of law matters, the ICC is mandated to be a permanent international criminal court, fulfilling the role of these ad hoc criminal tribunals. There are many secondary sources of information that can support research on various aspects of the work of the tribunals.

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

Formal name: International Criminal Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991.

Basic Documents

Reports and Publications

  • Annual Reports to General Assembly and Security Council (list of symbols)
    • The full text of the annual reports can be accessed through the Tribunal's website, as well as the ODS and UNBISnet
  • The Yearbook provides information about the work, members (with biographies), jurisdiction, organization, functioning and activities of the Tribunal in a given year
    • Includes a bibliography of publications relating to the Tribunal released during the reporting period
  • The Judicial Reports reprint all public indictments as well as the decisions and judgements 

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)

Formal name: International Criminal Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Genocide and Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Rwanda and Rwandan Citizens Responsible for Genocide and Other Such Violations Committed in the Territory of Neighbouring States between 1 January and 31 December 1994.

Basic Documents

Reports and Publications

  • Annual reports to General Assembly and Security Council (list of symbols)
  • Detailed information about cases is available on the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals website

International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (UNMICT)

The ICTR completed its work on 31 December 2015 and the work of the ICTY will soon be completed, however some tasks, including archiving of the case materials, will be carried out by a new body, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.  This body calls itself the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (UNMICT).

Because this is a new body, and the Tribunals are still completing their work, it is not yet clear how much of the ICTY and ICTR website functions will be carried out by the Residual Mechanism.

UN Administration of Justice

The UN has an internal justice system to resolve staff-management disputes because the organization has immunity from local jurisdiction and cannot be sued in a national court.

The UN Administrative Tribunal functioned from 1950-2009. It was replaced in 2009 by the new system, composed of two tribunals: the UN Dispute Tribunal and the UN Appeals Tribunal. The General Assembly adopted the new system of administration of justice in resolution 63/253 of 24 December 2008.

Current System (2009-)

Function

The UN Dispute Tribunal and the UN Appeals Tribunal handle internal disputes and disciplinary matters in the UN.

The UN Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) is the body to which staff members can formally dispute an administrative decision taken against them. When resolution through informal means cannot be arrived at, and when the result of the management evaluation is not to the satisfaction of the staff member, an application can be made to the UN Dispute Tribunal, as a court of first instance.

The UN Appeals Tribunal reviews appeals against decisions made by the UN Dispute Tribunal. Both staff and the administration can appeal UNDT decisions to the Appeals Tribunal.

Basic Legal Texts

The Statutes of both tribunals are annexed to General Assembly resolution 63/253.

The Rules of Procedure for both tribunals are found in General Assembly resolution 64/119 of 16 December 2009. 

Judgements & Court Orders

The text of judgements and orders of both tribunals are available on their websites. They are not issued as symbolled documents in the Official Document System, or indexed in the Library's catalogue UNBISnet.

  • Selected decisions are also reproduced in Chapter V of the UN Juridical Yearbook.
  • The judgements of both bodies may be produced in any of the official UN languages, though the working languages of the Appeals Tribunal are specified as English and French. 

Judgements of the UNDT are identified by the year of the judgement, the judgement number and the individual party's name.

  • The number assigned to judgements begins with one (001) each year, and counts judgements from all three registries.
  • UNDT/2011/031 (CHIJARIRA) was the 31st judgement rendered by the UNDT across all three registries in 2011.

Each order of the UNDT is also identified by the name of the applicant and an order number.

  • However, unlike judgements, the sequential numbering of orders is separate for each of the three locations that the UNDT operates in: New York, Geneva and Nairobi.
  • 47 (NY/2011) SIMMONS was the 47th order delivered in New York
  • 145 (NBI/2010) AMEER was the 145th order delivered in Nairobi
  • Not all orders are published: there are gaps in the numbers of the orders listed on the website

Judgements of the UN Appeals Tribunal are identified by the year of the judgement, the judgement number and the individual party's name;

  • for example, 2010-UNAT-001 (Campos) was the first judgement rendered by the UNAT in 2010
  • The party name identified in the citation can be that of either the appellant or the respondent

Orders of the UN Appeals Tribunal include the order number and the year or party name.

Like other documents produced by the UN, judgements of both bodies can include the suffix -/Corr. This indicates that there has been a correction made to the original judgement.

UN Administrative Tribunal (1950-2009)

The United Nations Administrative Tribunal was established by General Assembly resolution 351 A (IV) of 24 November 1949; the annexed Statute defined the mandate of the Tribunal.

  • The Statute was amended by the General Assembly at various times; the final text is contained in AT/11/Rev.6 (Sales number: 03.X.1)
  • General Assembly resolution 63/253 abolished the UN Administrative Tribunal

The Statute, Rules and Judgements of the UN Administrative Tribunal are available on the website.

  • The decisions of the UN Administrative Tribunal, whose numbers do not coincide with the case numbers, were first issued as separate documents under the series symbol AT/DEC/- and later cumulated (list of symbols)
  • The cumulations also include a subject index to the judgements during the period in question and give the composition of the Tribunal for the same timeframe
  • The full text of the decisions (from the beginning in 1950 onwards) is accessible through UNBISnet and the Official Document System of the United Nations (ODS)
  • Selected decisions were republished in Chapter V of the UN Juridical Yearbook

International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is an independent judicial body to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

  • International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) website
  • Established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982, which entered into force on 16 November 1994
  • Located in Hamburg, Germany
  • The website has current information about:

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