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This chapter of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook on International Adjudication assesses those international judicial bodies that are established principally to resolve disputes between States, notably the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body. Unlike courts oriented toward regional economic integration or regional human rights, such as the European Court of Justice or the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, these courts and tribunals primarily focus on resolving disputes between States. Contentious cases before these bodies, for the most part, do not involve institutional organs or other non-State actors as litigants. Unlike international criminal courts, these courts focus exclusively on issues of State responsibility, generally finding that international law has or has not been violated; if a violation is found, matter is usually negotiated to a resolution by the concerned States. Although reparation in the form of restitution, compensation or satisfaction is possible, criminal sanctions are not. Unlike ad hoc arbitral tribunals formed to address matters of investment or commerce, such as under the auspices of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) or the International Chamber of Commerce, these judicial bodies are permanent institutions; they are designed to operate for decades, with adjudicators who serve for years on a range of cases, not for just a single claim or group of claims. Unlike processes for mediation or conciliation, these courts or tribunals issue decisions that are legally binding on the parties appearing before them.

Such international judicial bodies have a prominent place in the pantheon of international adjudication; indeed, the ICJ is often viewed — symbolically — as at the pinnacle of international adjudication. Yet with the rise of numerous other dispute resolution bodies, including those before which non-State actors may appear and that may hear hundreds of cases per year, questions have arisen as to whether such ‘old school’ fora still play a dominant or even important role for international law, especially given the relative paucity of their caseloads.

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GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-108; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2013-108

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