IRRC No. 316
International humanitarian law and the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons
Reading time 6 min read
The Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice represents the first time that the Court's judges have been called upon to analyse in some detail rules of international humanitarian law. Other instances, for example, the Nicaragua case, involved nowhere near such an extensive analysis. The Advisory Opinion is therefore of particular interest in that it contains important findings on the customary nature of a number of humanitarian law rules and interesting pronouncements on the interpretation of these rules and their relationship with other rules. Most judges based their final decision on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons on teleological interpretations of the law, choosing either the right of self-defence as being the most fundamental value, or the survival of civilization and the planet as a whole as paramount. Unfortunately, space does not permit a comment on these highly important analyses of the underpinnings of humanitarian law and its purpose in the international order. Therefore, rather than focusing primarily on the Court's conclusion as to the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, this short comment will concentrate on the various pronouncements made on humanitarian law rules. Reference to the Court's finding on the legality of the use of nuclear weapons will only be made from the point of view of how it has contributed to the interpretation of those rules. For this purpose, reference will be made not only to the Advisory Opinion as such (hereafter referred to as the “Opinion”), but also to the various Separate and Dissenting Opinions.