Harris Institute Honors H.E. Sir Christopher Greenwood with World Peace Through Law Award

H.E. Sir Christopher Greenwood QC, the recipient of the 2013 World Peace Through Law Award, remembers a time when there was neither international arbitration nor international criminal courts.



The law school’s Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute recently bestowed the award upon Greenwood, who delivered his lecture, “World Peace Through Law: The Role of the International Court of Justice.” Co-sponsored by the school’s Public Interest Law & Policy Speakers Series, Greenwood’s lecture drew upon his extensive experiences on the court and in international law. Established in 2005, the award is given to “an individual who, by his or her work and writings, has considerably advanced the rule of law and thereby contributed to world peace.” Prior awardees include ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, Justice Richard Goldstone, and Ambassador and former ICC President Philippe Kirsch.

Serving as the British judge on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague since February of 2009, Greenwood stressed the relatively recent developments that have led to the court's now-burgeoning docket. He recalled that when he was a law student, the 1977 Yearbook of the Court included only a single case, the Aegean Continental Shelf dispute between Turkey and Greece. Moreover, the case was only four pages long—two pages in English, and two pages in French. On an introductory page that noted there was no table of contents or index, someone had written in jest, “Nor anything else.”  

“We’ve come a long way since then,” Greenwood stressed, noting that the ICJ now receives some 30,000 letters a year asking the Court to hear cases ranging from accusations of genocide to why a man’s divorce was taking so long. While the ICJ does not hear cases involving individual complaints, it can work to settle civil disputes between any of the 193 United Nations states that can appear before it. “The ICJ is a truly global court, not confined to the states of one region,” Greenwood explained. “In the last five years, cases have been brought before it from every corner of the world, and it has been through every area of international law that I had encountered in practice, and some—like navigation rights on a river—that I had never come across at all before I became a judge.” 

The ICJ is also unique because rather than being a proactive body with investigative resources, it depends on member states to bring cases to it. “That is actually a good thing, because it sharpens up what we do,” Greenwood said. “If we don’t do our job well enough, states will simply go elsewhere; there are other opportunities open to them.” 

The ICJ is a civil, not a criminal court —unlike the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunals of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. While it has no criminal jurisdiction, Greenwood said, “The ICJ plays just as important a role in trying to realize the ideal of ‘world peace through law.’” 

Greenwood discussed four ways that the ICJ accomplishes that goal. First, the ICJ resolves underlying disputes between states. For example, in the past, maritime or territorial disputes would often escalate to armed conflict. The ICJ gives states a forum for airing their differences and solving disagreements in a courtroom rather than on a battlefield. 

Second, while the Court does not handle criminal cases directly, it does address disputes between states over which state bears responsibility for wrongdoing. In the case of Belgium v. Senegal, the ICJ was asked to rule state should try the former dictator of Chad for charges including torture and crimes against humanity. 

Third, under Article 41 of its statute, the ICJ has the power to indicate provisional measures of protection ahead of the ruling on the merits—a new concept in international law that allows the Court to look forward rather than only backward. 

This is important in cases where there is a risk of violence, Greenwood said. For example, a 2011 dispute between Cambodia and Thailand created a demilitarized zone that included areas that were not in dispute but where the presence of armed forces would likely exacerbate tensions. 

“Provisional Measures are designed to prevent a dispute from getting worse in the future,” Greenwood said. 

Finally, the Court works to develop a coherent body of international law that reduces the uncertainty that could lead to conflict, such as the rules applicable to adjacent states whose continental shelves overlap. 

“The ICJ as a world court has to deal with any area of international law that can be brought before it,” Greenwood said. “No other court in the world has that scope.” 

So how successful has the ICJ been? “Following a bleak period from the mid-1960s to the end of the 1970s, recent years have seen a lot more cases being successfully resolved before the ICJ,” he said.  

“Almost all of the Court’s judgments on merits have been accepted and implemented by the states against whom these judgments have been directed,” Greenwood said. 


In closing, he looked back to the Nuremburg trials after World War II and the legacy of Whitney R. Harris as well as the other prosecutors in those cases. 

“In 1945, in a ruined world, Whitney Harris and others built a series of courts that laid down a system of international criminal justice in the most awful circumstances,” he said. “We owe it to their memory—and to their legacy—to ensure that we confront the far smaller challenges that face us today.” 

Click here to see a photo gallery from the World Peace Through Law Award ceremony and related festivities.

By Timothy J. Fox