IRRC No. 316

The Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the use of nuclear weapons

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Of the 51 opinions handed down by the Court of the Hague (28 by the Permanent Court of International Justice and 23 by the International Court of Justice), there is little doubt that the two delivered on 8 July 1996 in response to requests submitted by the WHO World Health Assembly and the United Nations General Assembly will become landmarks in the history of the Court, if not in history itself. Never before had the Court been asked to address a legal problem that had lain so close to the heart of international relations over the preceding 50 years, one which in the words of Vice-President Schwebel represented " a titanic tension between State practice and legal principle " [2 ] Its task was both sensitive and thankless because, in considering the particular problem of the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, the Court had to pronounce on the validity of conduct which, although it had remained hypothetical ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was nonetheless the cornerstone of the defence policy of the world's major powers.

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