Burniat Gives Insider’s View of International Court of Justice

Press Contact: Jim Vescovi at 212-854-7451
The International Court of Justice’s 2005 decision for the Congo against Uganda addressed important issues of international and humanitarian law, former ICJ legal officer Nicolas Burniat told law students attending his talk on November 13, sponsored by the Human Rights Institute. Currently a Pennoyer Fellow in advocacy organization Human Rights First’s Crimes Against Humanity Program, Burniat provided an insider’s view of ICJ’s rulings, having just completed a six-year stint at The Hague.
Peter J. Rosenblum ’92 L.L.M., Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein Associate Clinical Professor in Human Rights, moderated the discussion.
“Between 1998 and 2003, a war in the Congo [Second Congo War] killed four million people, but it wasn’t in the news,” said Burniat. “Rwanda and Uganda invaded the country.”
 The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) brought a suit before the world court, which found that it had no jurisdiction over Rwanda because that country had not agreed to abide by the Court’s rulings.
The ICJ ruled in 2005 that Uganda, over which the Court had jurisdiction, violated the principles of non-use of force in international relations and of non-intervention. In addition, the country violated its obligations under international humanitarian law.
The Court ruled that Uganda had invaded the Congo, financing and training rebel movements, and that it was responsible for all human rights violations committed by its army and the rebels, said Burniat. The Court also held Uganda responsible for pillaging the Congo’s natural resources, he added, calling this a crime against international law.
This landmark decision on natural resources enables the Congo to seek compensation from Uganda, Burniat said, adding that the countries are still negotiating, but the Congo has the right to bring the matter before the Court again if the countries can’t reach a settlement.
“Developing countries are beginning to trust the ICJ,” he said. “Most of the cases before the Court are brought by South American and African countries.”
The ICJ has a mixed record on human rights, though, he added, citing a decision that failed to find that genocide took place in Bosnia [during the civil war there.] “The Court decided not to do any fact-finding in this case,” he said, “which influenced its ruling.”
“The ICJ is best known for its rulings in maritime and land boundary cases,” he concluded.