Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1996, p. 226, pp. 241-244, paras. 27-36

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The Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons was issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on July 8, 1996. The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and provides legal advice to the UN and its specialized agencies.

In this advisory opinion, the ICJ examined the question of whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons is in accordance with international law, specifically in relation to the principles and rules of humanitarian law. The Court considered various aspects of the issue and provided its findings and reasoning.

Paragraphs 27 to 36 of the opinion address the question of whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful in certain circumstances. Here is a summary of the key points discussed in those paragraphs:

  1. The Court acknowledges that the general principles and rules of humanitarian law apply to nuclear weapons. However, it emphasizes that these principles and rules must be interpreted and applied in light of the specific characteristics of nuclear weapons.
  2. The Court notes that there is no comprehensive and universal treaty that specifically prohibits the threat or use of nuclear weapons.
  3. The Court analyzes the principles of necessity and proportionality in relation to the use of force. It states that the use of force is prohibited unless it is necessary to defend against an armed attack. The Court finds that the use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the principles of necessity and proportionality.
  4. The Court further examines the principle of distinction, which requires distinguishing between combatants and civilians, as well as between military objectives and civilian objects. It concludes that the use of nuclear weapons would be indiscriminate and would thus be inconsistent with this principle.
  5. The Court considers the principle of neutrality and non-use of force in international relations. It emphasizes that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be a violation of these principles.
  6. The Court discusses the principle of good faith and the obligation to negotiate disarmament in good faith. It states that this obligation applies to all states and is an essential condition for the maintenance of international peace and security.
  7. The Court concludes that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of humanitarian law.
  8. The Court also notes that the specific circumstances, such as self-defense against an armed attack, could potentially affect the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons.
  9. The Court does not reach a definitive conclusion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons in self-defense. It emphasizes that the use of nuclear weapons must comply with the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.
  10. The Court emphasizes the obligation of states to pursue negotiations in good faith to achieve nuclear disarmament.

It’s important to note that the ICJ’s advisory opinions are not legally binding, but they carry significant weight in international law and contribute to the development and clarification of legal principles. The ICJ’s opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons has been a significant reference point in subsequent discussions and debates on this topic.

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