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Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ)

The Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) was established under Article XIV of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which called on the League of Nations Council to formulate plans for an international court designed to contribute to the peaceful settlement of international disputes.  The article also provided that the PCIJ might offer an advisory opinion on any dispute or question referred to the Court by the League of Nations Council.  The framers of the League of Nations Council did not incorporate the concept of compulsory settlement of international disputes in the League of Nations Covenant nor the Statute of the PCIJ.  At its second session in February 1920, the Council appointed a committee of ten eminent jurists to submit an organizational plan for the PCIJ.  The Council forwarded the organizational plan to the League of Nations Assembly, which adopted the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice on December 16, 1920.  By September 1921, a majority of the member states had ratified the statute and the first election of judges took place.  The PCIJ began its preliminary session in the Hague in January 1922 and heard its first case, an advisory opinion, in May 1922.

Technically speaking, the PCIJ was not an organ of the League of Nations, although the Court's existence was closely connected to the League.  A member state of the League of Nations had to ratify the Statute of the PCIJ before it became a party to Court decisions (all League member states could participate in the election of judges and had to share in the Court's expenses) and non-League members could sign the Statute of the PCIJ and participate in the proceedings.  For example, the United States, never a member of the League of Nations, signed the Statute of the Court in December 1935, but the Senate refused to ratify the statute.  Despite the lack of official recognition of the Court, the PCIJ always had an American judge as a member of the Court

During the thirty-three year history of the PCIJ, the Court heard a total of 66 cases, the vast majority (50) between 1922-1932 during the heyday of the League of Nations.  The Court rendered a total of 27 advisory opinions and 32 judgments.  Governments withdrew another ten cases from consideration before the Court issue a final decision.  The concept of international litigation as a means to promote the pacific resolution of issues between states relied on the existence of a stable and relaxed international system.  With the rise of the revisionist powers in 1933, only sixteen new cases came before the PCIJ.

The PCIJ underwent a number of important revisions during its tenure.  The rules of the Court underwent their first major revision in 1926.  The structure and composition of the Court experienced a major change again in 1931, when the PCIJ held its second general election of judges.  A second significant overhaul of the rules of the Court followed in 1936.  These revisions included the establishment of judicial years in place of the ordinary and extraordinary sessions of the Court.

World War II marked the end of the Permanent Court of International Justice.  The Court held its last wartime session in the Hague in February 1940, before the German invasion of the Netherlands.  With the search for a new post-war international order, delegates at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in Washington, DC (August-October 1944) discussed the development of a new International Court of Justice, which would work in association with the new United Nations Organization.  Delegates at the San Francisco Conference approved the new International Court of Justice (June 1945) as one of the principal organs of the United Nations (Article VII) and as the UN's chief judicial organization (Article XCII).  In October 1945, the members of the PCIJ held their last session in the Hague and on January 31, 1946, the judges of the Permanent Court of International Justice resigned. 


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Last updated:  October, 2002 -  Send Comments to:
Blandine Blukacz-Louisfert, Chief, UNOG Registry, Records and Archives Unit, United Nations