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Wednesday, 9 October 1985
Page: 895

Senator HAINES —Is the Minister representing the Attorney-General aware of reports that the United States of America has decided to cease to recognise the authority of the International Court of Justice, except in non-political cases? Does the Minister consider that this partial withdrawal by the United States will weaken the authority of this important international judicial panel? Does the Minister think that the timing of the United States of America's withdrawal is particularly regrettable in terms of resolving international disputes, given the current suit in that court brought against the United States by Nicaragua.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I can answer the question in my capacity as Minister representing the Attorney-General and as Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, because it does have those dimensions. The United States Government announced on 7 October that it had decided to withdraw its declaration accepting the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. This decision was apparently taken as a direct consequence of the case brought against it by Nicaragua last year alleging a breach of international law in the United States assisting the `Contra' rebels to lay mines in Nicaraguan waters. The United States had claimed from the outset that the dispute was one which should have been raised in an appropriate international political forum and that it was not one capable of judicial resolution. It was no great surprise, then, when in January this year the United States Administration announced that it was withdrawing from that case entirely.

The latest step, however, is less expected and very disappointing. It reflects both a disillusionment in the United States Government with the International Court of Justice and a wish to ensure that it is not again taken to the Court on what it regards as essentially a political matter.

The United States withdrawal from ICJ jurisdiction is a matter of real regret to the Australian Government. The ICJ is of central importance to the international regime of law and justice, playing a role not only as an arbiter of disputes between states but also as a body widely recognised as competent to clarify and develop the principles of international law. Although the US decision to withdraw is more understandable in light of the fact that fewer than one third of the nations in the world have accepted the Court's jurisdiction, for example, with neither the Soviet Union nor any of its Eastern Bloc allies accepting the Court's jurisdiction, it is nonetheless a move which can only undermine the authority of the Court and adversely affect its capacity to influence developments in international law.