“More and more people now support the principles of the UN”

Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf (1948) was born in Somalia and has worked as a legal advisor to various United Nations agencies in Geneva, Vienna, Paris, and New York. In 2009, he became a judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, where he has served as its president since 2018.

“I was born when Somalia was still an Italian colony under British rule in the aftermath of the Second World War. But as it was under UN control, expectations were high that we would gain independence. I grew up in the euphoric atmosphere of that hope. When I was 12, we finally became independent. The joy was immense. The UN had given this to us, I realised.

Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf at high school.

When I was in law school, Somalia had a dispute with some neighbouring countries. I thought, how can countries that are so similar, so closely linked, not live in harmony? I was convinced that international law and the principle of peaceful dispute resolution in the UN Charter could help resolve such conflicts. It was the subject of my graduate thesis and the beginning of my career.

Countries must work together for everyone's benefit.
Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf

Today, we are facing new challenges. Covid-19 spares no one. Countries must work together for everyone’s benefit. In order to do that properly, we need new laws and regulations. Of course, there may be disagreement over the interpretation of those regulations. That is precisely why an International Court of Justice is essential. It resolves disputes in accordance with the law.

Yet there are still wars in many parts of the world. But I certainly see progress. More and more people believe in the principles of the UN and are standing up for those principles.
Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf

International law prohibits the use of force, yet there are still wars in many parts of the world. But I certainly see progress. More and more people believe in the principles of the UN and are standing up for those principles. More than 150 cases have been brought before our court that could otherwise have led to war. It is very important that young people are aware of this so we can pass on the torch of progress. The horrific genocides that took place in Europe and elsewhere and the barbarism of slavery and colonialism in Africa show what people are capable of if there is no respect for the rule of law.”

UN context

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the highest judicial body in the United Nations.

The court is based in the Peace Palace in The Hague. The International Court of Justice was established in 1945 as part of the United Nations Charter. The fifteen court judges met for the first time on 18 April 1946. The UN General Assembly appoints the judges for a term of nine years. There are never multiple judges of the same nationality sitting on the Court.

The ICJ examines legal disputes between states through the lens of international law. It also advises United Nations organisations on legal matters. The ICJ’s rulings are not binding, but they do have a cautionary effect: court rulings can prevent conflicts from getting out of hand and descending into violence.