INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE COMMUNIQUE
UNOFFICIAL FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed
8 July 1996
(Request for an Advisory Opinion by the World Health
The Hague, 8 July 1996. The International Court of Justice found
today, by eleven votes to three, that it was not able to give the
advisory opinion requested by the World Health Organisation on
the question of the Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear
Weapons in Armed Conflict.
The Court considered that there are three conditions which must
be satisfied in order to found the jurisdiction of the Court when
a request for an advisory opinion is submitted to it by a
specialised agency: the agency requesting the opinion must be
duly authorised, under the Charter, to request opinions from the
Court: the opinion requested must be on a legal question; and
this question must be one arising within the scope of the
activities of the requesting agency.
The first two conditions had been met. With regard to the third,
however, the Court found that although according to its
constitution the World Health Organisation is authorised to deal
with the effects on health of the use of nuclear weapons, or of
any other hazardous activity, and to take preventative measures
aimed at protecting the health of populations in the event of
such weapons being used or such activities engaged in, the
question put to the Court in the present case related
NOT TO THE EFFECTS of the use of nuclear weapons on health, but
to the LEGALITY of the use of such weapons IN VIEW OF THEIR
HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS . And the Court pointed out
that whatever those effects might be, the competence of the WHO
to deal with them is not dependent on the legality of the acts
that caused them.
The Court further pointed out that
international organisations do not, unlike States, possess a
general competence, but are governed by the 'principle of
speciality', that is to say, they are invested by the States
which create them with powers, the limits of which are a function
of the common interests whose promotion those States entrust to
them. Besides, the World Health Organisation is an international
organisation of a particular kind - a 'specialised agency'
forming part of a system based in the Charter of the United
Nations, which is designed to organise international co-operation
in a coherent fashion by bringing the United Nations, invested
with powers of general scope, into relationship with various
autonomous and complementary organisations, invested with
sectorial powers. The Court therefore concluded that the
responsibilities of the WHO are necessarily restricted to the
sphere of public 'health' and cannot encroach on the
responsibilities of other parts of the United Nations system.
And that there is no doubt that questions concerning the use of
force, the regulation of armaments and disarmament are within the
competence of the United Nations and lie outside that of the
The request for an advisory opinion submitted by the WHO thus
does not relate to a question which arises 'within the scope of
[the] activities' of that Organisation.
The Court was composed as follows: PRESIDENT Bedjaoui, VICE-
PRESIDENT Schwebel; JUDGES Oda, Guillaume, Shahabuddeen,
Weeramantry, Ranjeva, Herczegh, Shi, Fleischauer, Koroma,
Vereshchetin, Ferrari Bravo, Higgins: REGISTRAR Valencia-Ospina.
Judges Ranjeva and Ferrari Bravo appended declarations to the
Advisory Opinion of the Court; Judge Oda appended a separate
Judges Shshabuddeen, Weeramantry and Koroma appended dissenting
The printed text of the Advisory Opinion and the declarations and
opinions appended to it will become available in due course
(orders and enquires should be addressed to the Distributor and
Sales Section, Office of the United Nations, 1211 Geneva, 10.
The Sales Section United Nations New York, NT 10017; or any
appropriately specialised bookshop).
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