N0. 96/22
8 July 1996

Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict
(Request for an Advisory Opinion by the World Health Organisation)

Advisory Opinion

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 specialised agencies.

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 opinion;
Judges Shshabuddeen, Weeramantry and Koroma appended dissenting opinions.

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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