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The United States and the ICJ

December 27, 2011

The United States has long had an uneasy relationship with the International Court of Justice, which primarily arbitrates legal disputes among UN member nations that recognize its jurisdiction. The United States withdrew from the court's compulsory jurisdiction in 1986 after the court ruled it owed Nicaragua war reparations. The United States also disagreed with the court's stance that it failed to fulfill its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in 2005 in cases involving Mexican nationals on death row. "There's always been a little bit of a love-hate relationship" between the United States and the International Court of Justice, says Judge Joan E. Donoghue, the U.S. member of the court. However, she notes that more recently, the United States has increased its engagement with the ICJ especially with respect to individuals who are facing the death penalty in the United States. She says the United States is making considerable efforts to come into compliance, despite serious obstacles within its own constitutional system.

Donoghue says she does not see herself as a representative of the United States to the court. "When I was at the State Department I served my country by representing it," she says, "and now I serve my country by being independent of it." While Donoghue acknowledges that the judges' nationality plays a role, she says it is for a different reason than people think. "Nationality has shaped the way we think because of the schooling we have, the kind of legal training we have, certainly our perspectives on issues are influenced by our nationality, but we are so much more than that," she says.


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