Obligations concerning Negotiations relating to Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race and to Nuclear Disarmament (Marshall Islands v. United Kingdom)
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Overview of the case
On 24 April 2014, the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed Applications against nine States (in alphabetical order : China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russian Federation, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and United States of America), accusing them of not fulfilling their obligations with respect to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.
While these nine Applications all related to the same matter, the Marshall Islands distinguished between those three States (India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom) which had recognized the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court pursuant to Article 36, paragraph 2, of its Statute, and the six others, in respect of which the Marshall Islands proposed to found the jurisdiction of the Court on consent yet to be given. In accordance with Article 38, paragraph 5, of the Rules of Court, the Applications filed against these six States were transmitted to them but not entered in the General List, and no action was taken in the proceedings in the absence of their consent.
With regard to the cases entered in the General List, the Marshall Islands alleged, more specifically, that the United Kingdom had violated Article VI of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), to which they were both party. According to that Article, each party “undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”. Although India and Pakistan were not parties to the NPT, the Marshall Islands contended that certain obligations enshrined in that instrument applied to all States as a matter of customary international law, and such was the case of the obligations provided for in Article VI of the NPT.
India and Pakistan having informed the Court that they considered that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the dispute alleged by the Marshall Islands, and that the latter’s Application was inadmissible, the Court decided that these questions needed to be resolved first and that they would be determined separately, before any proceedings on the merits, pursuant to Article 79, paragraph 2, of the Rules of Court. The Parties subsequently filed their written pleadings on these questions within the time-limits fixed.
In the proceedings instituted against the United Kingdom, the Court fixed the time-limits for the filing of a Memorial by the Marshall Islands and a Counter-Memorial by the United Kingdom. However, within the time-limit of three months following the filing of the Applicant’s Memorial, the United Kingdom raised certain preliminary objections in the case. Consequently, pursuant to Article 79, paragraph 5, of the Rules of Court, the proceedings on the merits were suspended, and the Marshall Islands presented a written statement of its observations and submissions on the preliminary objections raised by the United Kingdom.
Public hearings were held in all three cases in March 2016, and the Court delivered its Judgment in each case on 5 October 2016.
In each of the three Judgments, the Court considered that the respondent States’ preliminary objection based on the absence of a dispute between the Parties at the time the Applications were filed should be upheld. The Court noted that, in order for a dispute to exist, the two sides must hold clearly opposite views concerning the question of the performance or non-performance of certain international obligations. It further noted that a dispute exists when the evidence demonstrates that the respondent was aware, or could not have been unaware, that its views were positively opposed by the applicant. Lastly, it observed that, in principle, the existence of a dispute is to be determined as of the date the application is submitted to the Court. Having examined the statements and conduct of the Parties in each of the cases, the Court considered that they did not provide a basis for finding a dispute between the two States in each case before the Court. Since the Court did not have jurisdiction under Article 36, paragraph 2, of its Statute, it could not proceed to the merits of these cases.
This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.