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International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), sometimes referred to as the World Court, is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations. It sits in The Hague, Netherlands and is composed of fifteen independent Justices from around the world. The ICJ is the only court in the world with general and near-universal jurisdiction; countries may bring cases before the Court even without becoming United Nations Member States, as long as both countries have consented to be subject to the Court’s jurisdiction. It may entertain any question of international law, subject to the provisions of its founding statutes.

The Court’s role is to examine international law and to settle legal disputes submitted to it by states. It also dispenses advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies. Since 1946, the Court has heard more than 160 cases, including more than 25 advisory proceedings. ICJ opinions, unlike most national legal systems, do not create binding legal requirements on other United Nations Member States, and cases are generally treated independently of one another.

The Justices are nominated by regional groups and elected by the General Assembly and Security Council for nine-year terms. Justices must receive a majority vote in each body to be named to the Court, and one third of the Court is elected every three years. When a state is party to a case before the ICJ, it enjoys the right to appoint an ad hoc justice. The ad hoc Justice does not need to be from that State. The ad hoc Justice enjoys the same privileges and responsibilities as the other Justices, but his or her obligation is limited to proceedings in that case.

Unlike most other international organizations, the members of the Court are not representatives of governments; they are independent judges whose first duty is to exercise their powers impartially and conscientiously in the Court.

Proceedings before the Court can last for years, involving complex issues of international law as well as difficult political questions. The States party to the case submit pleadings, or memorials, in writing along with extensive records supporting their cases. The States also participate in oral arguments, which allow States to explore the case and respond to questions from the Justices. The Justices deliberate in private, then read the judgment in an open forum.

Common Types of Cases Common Types of Cases

The Court hears two types of cases. First, there are contentious cases between two States where there is a legal dispute and the States parties are bound to the Court’s decision. States may institute proceedings by mutual agreement or by unilateral application against a respondent State. This is different from the International Criminal Court, which hears cases against individuals for crimes such as genocide.

Many of the Court’s cases—historical and contemporary—are border or territorial disputes, where two States agree to let the ICJ decide where the border should be. Other cases are highly charged and quite political in nature—it is rare that the interpretation and application of the law operates entirely outside of the realm of political discourse, and in the international arena, this is especially true.

Second, the Court can issue advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by other agencies, such as the Security Council or the General Assembly. This opportunity is open to the five major organs of the United Nations and 16 other specialized agencies. Unlike the rulings in contentious cases, advisory opinions are not binding on the parties that request the opinion; the organization is under no legal obligation to follow the Court’s recommendation. The Court requests written and oral proceedings for the case, although these processes may be truncated when compared to the process used for contentious cases.

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Structure of the AMUN ICJ Structure of the AMUN ICJ

In keeping with AMUN’s philosophy of simulating United Nations bodies as closely as possible, the AMUN ICJ closely resembles the ICJ in the Hague. The ICJ at AMUN is composed of student Justices who hear oral arguments, deliberate on the cases before them and collaboratively develop opinions of the Court. Students also participate as Advocates, presenting their case first in a written memorial and then in oral arguments, where they present their case in person and respond to questions from the Justices.

AMUN Registrars assist the Justices with any additional legal research the body may require and help facilitate the work of the Court through each of the three cases. Secretariat responsibilities also include researching cases for inclusion on the Court’s docket, reviewing memorials submitted to the Court, assisting in the preparation of the Court’s docket and providing any other assistance needed by ICJ Justices and Advocates.

The cases preselected by the AMUN Secretariat form the Court’s docket. This year the Court is deliberating three cases:

  • Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay)
  • Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand)
  • Advisory Opinion: Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (Palestine; Israel; Canada; Egypt)

Additionally, the General Assembly or the Security Council may submit a request to the Court for an Advisory Opinion on a topic of international law. The Secretary-General, with the advice of the Director of the ICJ, will decide whether to include additional cases on the Court’s docket. The Court is in session to hear arguments and develop opinions throughout the Conference.

The Justices should expect to spend the first session setting the docket, electing officers, determining the final procedures of the Court and reviewing the substantive issues in each case before the Court. The rest of Conference will be spent hearing cases, deliberating and rendering opinions on those cases.

Although the Secretariat strives to give the Justices as much freedom as possible in setting the docket, some restraints do exist in the interest of promoting a fair and equal experience for the advocates as well as the Justices. All advocates will receive an equal amount of time in the docket to present their arguments, respond to questioning and for deliberation among the Justices. Although advocates will not know the order of the cases and arguments prior to the first evening of the simulation, the Secretariat, in conjunction with the Justices, will strive to communicate the order as soon as it is set to the advocates. The docket is also published in the AMUN Chronicle. After the docket is set, the Court elects a President and Vice President by secret ballot. Their duties are to moderate and time the oral arguments and facilitate the closed deliberations.

Joining the International Court of Justice Joining the International Court of Justice

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Permanent Justices Permanent Justices

Justice positions are assigned by application on a first-come, first-served basis until the fifteen seats on the Court are filled. It is not a requirement for Justices to be a member of a delegation. Permanent Justices are full time Conference assignments, and representatives serving as Justices shall not be assigned to another simulation.

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Ad Hoc Justice Application and Role at Conference Ad Hoc Justice Application and Role at Conference

States involved in a case before the Court are strongly encouraged to place an Ad Hoc Justice on the Court if they do not already have a Permanent Justice. States wishing to do this may do so in two ways: (1) they may apply to be a permanent Justice (see above); or (2) they may appoint an ad hoc Justice. Ad hoc Justices sit on the Court only for the case in which their country is involved and must be assigned to another simulation. If States wish to appoint an ad hoc justice they must contact the Secretary-General and the Director of the International Court of Justice by 1 October by e-mailing Ad hoc Justices should, whenever possible, be paired with another representative in committee, so the State is fully represented in the committee while the ad hoc Justice participates in the Court’s proceedings.

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Advocates Advocates

Advocate positions are not full-time Conference assignments. ICJ Advocates are assigned as members of the delegations who have cases before the court. Generally, Advocates should expect to spend two to three hours presenting their case and hearing the Court’s opinion during the Conference. Advocates must also serve as representatives in another AMUN simulation or as a delegation’s permanent representative. ICJ Advocate teams are limited to two people. ICJ Advocates should, whenever possible, be paired with another representative in committee, so the State is fully represented in the committee while the Advocate participates in the Court’s proceedings.

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Preparation Preparation

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Preparing as a Justice Preparing as a Justice

Familiarizing yourself with the information provided in this handbook and on AMUN’s website is a key starting point to your preparations. Justices should familiarize themselves with the factual and legal disputes at hand, as well as the international treaties involved. Another helpful resource is previous ICJ opinions that are similar. While reading opinions, note the tone and style used by the Justices. Pay special attention to the way the Court addresses questions of jurisdiction; often this is the crux of the winning argument for the Court. Memorials written by the Advocates will be made available on the AMUN website in November as soon as memorials from all sides of a case are received by AMUN staff. Reviewing these resources is key to a successful experience.

Each Justice, while independent, will still have a roleplaying function. ICJ Justices retain their citizenship with the state their school represents at the Conference. Justices not affiliated with a delegation will be assigned citizenship with a state; while ICJ Justices are supposed to be independent advocates for the law, they often come to the Court with inherent biases based on their home country’s history, culture, religion and laws. Similar to the ICJ in The Hague, a Justice’s citizenship is important as it can sometimes cause a Justice to favor or side with the position advocated by their country of origin when that State comes before the Court.

All Justices will be expected to hear arguments and question the Advocates in all cases on the docket. Any Justice not present during the Court’s Oral Arguments may not participate in the subsequent deliberations and opinion writing for that case. After each case is argued, the Justices retire behind closed doors to deliberate and to draft the opinion of the Court. Justices discuss the case in depth, pulling from their research prior to the Conference, the Advocates’ memorials and the points raised during oral argument. If the Justices require any additional information, they are welcome to request that from the Registrars. Justices collaborate to write a majority opinion and as many concurring and dissenting opinions as the body requires. Justices use their persuasive writing and speaking skills to sway additional Justices to their position throughout the drafting process.

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Preparing as an Advocate Preparing as an Advocate

Advocates’ opportunity to present their case is twofold: written memorials and oral arguments. Advocates must thoroughly understand the legal principles that support, and those that oppose, their position, and be able to articulate them in the face of strict scrutiny from the Justices. The research and creation of an Advocate’s Memorial is one of the most important parts of preparation for an Advocate’s at-Conference role. Time spent thoroughly researching the Advocate’s State’s positions and arguments provides Advocates with the vital information necessary to respond to questions at Conference and helps them effectively craft a memorial to present their arguments to the court before the Conference.

Prior to oral arguments, Advocates have the opportunity to consult with an ICJ Registrar about their oral argument. To take advantage of the opportunity, Advocates should attend the Advocate meeting on the first evening of Conference, where the Registrars will share information about the simulation timeline and give Advocates the opportunity to set up a practice session.

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Written Memorials Written Memorials

ICJ memorials should contain:

  • Jurisdictional statement and arguments (outlining whether your country recognizes the Court’s jurisdiction in this case)
  • Statement of facts (what are the relevant facts in the case?)
  • Statement of law (what treaties, customs or laws apply?)
  • Argument section (detailing how the law and facts apply to the merits of the case – how do the laws and facts support your case?)
  • Summary and prayer for relief (what do you want the Court to do?)

The Court does not require these sections to be in any particular order, although they are typically laid out in the order shown. As you draft your memorial, think carefully about how best to use these sections to your advantage to advocate your position.

The party bringing the case is called the Applicant. The defendant is called the Respondent. In an Advisory Opinion, each country is known as a Party. Due to time constraints, all Parties in any AMUN ICJ case must prepare their memorials without seeing the memorial of their opponent. However, each side should anticipate and seek to counter the arguments opposing Advocates might make. All memorials must be submitted by 25 October to the AMUN Secretariat at

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Oral Arguments Oral Arguments

Oral arguments provide Advocates with an opportunity to explain to the Justices the factual and legal merits of their case. In adversarial cases, the Applicant will argue first. The Respondent will then have the same amount of time to reply. Finally, the Applicant will have the opportunity to present a brief rebuttal. In Advisory Opinion cases, each Party will have a set amount of time to present their argument to the Court and for rebuttal, the order for which will be determined by the Justices on the first evening. Advocates presenting amicus curiae arguments will then be accorded no more than five minutes each to speak. The Justices will create the docket and define the amount of time for oral arguments. Advocates, with the exception of amicus curiae, should prepare between 10 to 20 minutes for arguments. The oral argument is not simply an opportunity to give a prepared speech; Justices often interject with multiple questions throughout the presentation. At least the first five minutes of each Advocate’s presentation will be uninterrupted, to allow each side the opportunity to freely present the key issues of their arguments. After the initial five minutes, the Advocates may continue with their presentations, but the Justices may also interject and question the Advocates on the merits of their case. Therefore, Advocates must be prepared to both answer questions and defend their positions. The following steps should be taken to prepare for oral arguments:

  1. Identify the critical issues in the case. You should try to have at least three main points to your argument.
  2. Develop a theme which incorporates your best arguments on the critical issues. Keep it simple. Remember, the best arguments are structured around a story that has a unified theme, which explains why your country has been wronged, and what the Court can do to provide a fair and just solution.
  3. Prepare an outline. The outline should include your theme, your best arguments on the critical issues, your responses to your opponent’s best arguments and ideas about answers to any other questions you think the Justices might ask. Try to make your memorial and oral argument outline consistent, so the first issue addressed in the memorial is the first issue addressed in the oral argument.
  4. Practice, practice, practice! There is no substitute for practicing oral arguments: your presentation is likely to be smoother and more persuasive. Have your Faculty Advisor or other students fire questions at you. Learn to field those questions and then transition back to the point you were making prior to the question.
  5. Learn proper courtroom demeanor. Remember to be polite and deferential to the Justices at all times. While argument is the method, persuasion is the goal.

Though each Advocate will have more than five minutes to present oral arguments, keep in mind that only the first five minutes of the presentations will be uninterrupted. Focus on the main points and key issues during the first five minutes. AMUN suggests that you follow a pyramid format; present the crux of the argument first and then use the remainder of the allotted time to expand on those issues in a more thorough and complete manner. This format can also allow for a quick means of referencing issues during the remaining period of presentation and questions. It is also wise to conclude the presentation by again summing up the key points.

Try to anticipate questions the Justices might ask and develop answers. Do not write out answers verbatim. Do, however, write out catch phrases or legal terms you will want to remember precisely. Simple, concise answers that repeatedly stress the same points are persuasive and will be remembered by the Justices. Oral arguments will involve extemporaneous speaking and responses, not the presentation of a memorized speech.

Outline the specific names of conventions, treaties and cases in your memorial and your outline. Your oral argument requires these citations to maintain your credibility with the Justices, and articulate the reasons your side of the case is stronger.

Note: Remember that the AMUN ICJ is a simulation. No one expects participants, who are not lawyers or Justices, to make presentations, decisions or render opinions with the same level of sophistication as actual ICJ Justices or Advocates. The participants’ job is to gain a basic understanding of what considerations are taken into account when presenting or presiding over a case and to prepare to argue their cases before the Court.

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Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay) Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay)

This is a historical case. In accordance with AMUN rules and procedures, please note that the historical timeline for this case will stop on 1 February 2007. Any and all updates to this case after that date will not be relevant to the AMUN simulation nor considered in hearing the case.

In response to two established mills along the river that marks their shared border, the Argentine Republic (Argentina) issued an application instituting international court proceedings against the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (Uruguay). The application alleges that the pulp mills were established in violation of the Statute of the River Uruguay—signed by both parties in February of 1975—which requires advance notification and consultation of such operations by both parties before establishment of any sort of operation along the river. Argentina requests the Court order Uruguay to suspend the mill’s construction and refrain from any further construction incompatible with the 1975 Statute.

Argentina, in its memorial, outlined the action of the establishment of the two pulp mills as well as filed an application for provisional measures of the Court. Argentina asserts the Court has jurisdiction under the first paragraph of Article 60 of the 1975 Statute, which states “Any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the Treaty and the Statute which cannot be settled by direct negotiations may be submitted by either Party to the International Court of Justice.” Its claim was simple: Uruguay failed to notify and collaborate with the Argentine government prior to the establishment of the two pulp mills as required by the 1975 Statute, thereby constituting a violation of the 1975 Statute. Additionally, Argentina raised concerns that the mills would adversely harm the environment and the river itself. Argentina requested the Court order Uruguay to suspend work on the mills, and begin to protect and conserve the aquatic environment around the mills.

Countering the claims of Argentina in its memorial, Uruguay asserts a limitation on the jurisdiction of the court. While accepting jurisdiction under Article 60 of the 1975 Statute, Uruguay states that only arguments based on the 1975 Statute are to be considered. Since the 1975 Statute does not address the specific environmental concerns outlined by Argentina, Uruguay argues it is not within the jurisdiction of the Court for consideration. In response to the actual claims of the Argentine memorial, Uruguay states that Argentina has mischaracterized the 1975 Statue as requiring consent for operations alongside the river, and not just simply notification. Under this interpretation of the 1975 Statute, Uruguay states it did uphold its end of the treaty in providing advanced notification of the establishment of the pulp mills.

To resolve this case, the Court must determine the exact bounds of jurisdiction under the 1975 Statute of the River Uruguay, as well as determine the correct procedures required.

In successfully adjudicating this case, the Court must address and resolve two significant issues. First, does the International Court of Justice have jurisdiction to consider the application submitted by Argentina to determine whether Uruguay is in violation of the 1975 Statute of the River Uruguay? Second, if the Court does find jurisdiction in this case, how does the Court balance the act of asserting national sovereignty with a potential or real impact that extends beyond national borders?

Questions to consider:

  • What is the scope of jurisdiction for the Court under the 1975 Statute?
  • To what obligation are each nation under the 1975 Statute?
  • What precedent, if any, is there for interpretation of the 1975 Statute and what precedent would be set for a decision?

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Bibliography Bibliography

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Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand) Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand)

This is a historical case. In accordance with AMUN rules and procedures, please note that the historical timeline for this case will stop on 1 June 1961. Any and all updates to this case after that date will not be relevant to the AMUN simulation nor considered in hearing the case. 

On 6 October 1959, the Kingdom of Cambodia (Cambodia) instituted proceedings against the Kingdom of Thailand (Thailand) in the International Court of Justice (the Court) regarding the sovereignty of the Temple Preah Vihear. Thailand entered a preliminary objection, stating the Court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the application. After written and oral proceedings, the Court decided on 26 May 1961 that it had the jurisdictional authority to proceed and dismissed Thailand’s objections.

The Temple of Preah Vihear, now in ruins, sits on a plateau in the Dangrek Mountain chain. Thought to have been built by the Khmer Empire, it is only easily accessible from the north. Historically, the Temple was a place of religious worship and pilgrimage for Cambodians. Currently, both Cambodia and Thailand lay claim to this site.

Cambodia asserts their sovereignty over the Temple Preah Vihear is proven by international conventions and treaties, continual acts of sovereignty over the area, and that any acts of Thailand fail to displace Cambodia’s sovereignty. Thailand disputes the interpretation of the international conventions and treaties cited by Cambodia and rejects the assertion that Cambodia enacted continuous acts of sovereignty over the area, as Thailand had maintained a military presence in the temple since 1954. Finally, as Thailand asserts that since the Temple was always under their sovereignty, it need not prove its actions displaced Cambodia’s sovereignty of the area.

The border between Thailand and what is now Cambodia was negotiated over several treaties, the foremost being the Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1904. This treaty between Siam (now Thailand) and France delineated the border between Siam and the French protectorate Cambodia.

Cambodia asserts the final border for the area in question was established by the Mixed Commissions in 1907, with the Temple lying in Cambodia’s territory. Referencing the map found in the Application Instituting Proceedings, Cambodia further asserts the border was formally approved with the 23 March 1907 Treaty between France and Siam. Thailand disputes this, stating the proposed border map could not have been presented to the Mixed Commissions and therefore approved by both parties, because the last meeting of the Mixed Commissions was held on the 19th of January 1907. Thailand asserts the map presented by Cambodia could not have been completed at that time and therefore was not seen nor approved by all parties. Thailand asserts the border for the area in question should, as stated in Article I of the 1904 Treaty, follow the watershed.

The Court has two questions before it: (1) Whether the Court has jurisdiction to address the claims for Cambodia; (2) whether the territorial sovereignty over the Temple of Preah Vihear belongs to the Kingdom of Cambodia or the Kingdom of Thailand.

Questions to consider:

  • How does the 1904 Franco-Siamese Treaty and subsequent treaties, conventions, and documents support or refute the claims of each side?
  • What actions or inactions result in showing or losing sovereignty over an area?
  • The Judgment by the International Court of Justice sought to balance a number of competing priorities in a volatile geopolitical time and circumstance. Should those considerations be reconsidered in the context of this case?

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Bibliography Bibliography

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Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (Advisory Opinion: Palestine; Israel; Canada; Egypt) Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (Advisory Opinion: Palestine; Israel; Canada; Egypt)

This is a historical case. In accordance with AMUN rules and procedures, please note that the historical timeline for this case will stop on 9 July 2004. Any and all updates to this case after that date will not be relevant to the AMUN simulation nor considered in hearing the case. 

On 8 December 2003, the United Nations General Assembly (GA) adopted resolution ES-10/14 during the 23rd meeting of its Tenth Emergency Special Session (ES). The resolution requested the urgent issuance of an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ or Court) in response to the question of the legal consequences of the construction of a barrier wall in the Occupied Palestinian Terrritory. This intermediary resolution was preceded by ES-10/13, which demanded that Israel reverse and discontinue its construction of the barrier wall in accordance with 1949 agreed armistice lines.

Following the failure of the Security Council to adopt a resolution on the highly-contentious matter after a permanent member refused to take action on the situation, the Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly implored the Court to answer the following question: What are the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, as described in the report of the Secretary-General, considering the rules and principles of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions?” 

In September 2000, during the Second Intifada, Israel began the construction of a barrier wall that loosely followed and extended beyond the Green Line, a demarcation line proposed by the 1949 Armistice Agreements that concluded the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and generally understood to serve as an accepted border. The extension of the wall beyond this line of demarcation as proposed by Israel would encompass around 80 percent of settlers within the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including within a significant portion of East Jerusalem, a city determined legally to be maintained under international administration by A/RES/194(III), which provided an official end to the 1947-49 Palestine War.

Citing Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, Israel posits that its construction of the barrier wall is a matter of domestic self-defense from militant Arab aggressors and terror attacks, thus implying that their control over territory contained within the borders of the barrier wall is legitimate and defensible. In addition to disputes about the legitimacy of Israel’s de facto authority over implicated Palestinian territories, including condemnations by the General Assembly and Security Council of Israel’s violations of international law and imposed obstacles to the Middle East peace process, were questions of the rights of civilians in zones of active conflict.

Within its written statement, Palestine reiterates their prior support for the opinion of the Court and asks that the Court keep two distinct points in mind. The first is that the territory of the Palestianian people be respected as the people of Palestine are, as has been indicated in the past by the General Assembly, entitled to self-determination and a degree of autonomy. The second being that the wall cannot be considered a simple barrier, but a manned operation of a variety independent of simple defense. Palestine further characterizes the wall—and its continued operation—as one designed to annex territory and limit the limited sovereignty of Palestinian territory.

Of particular note was debate regarding the enforcement of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (GCIV), which provides for the protection of noncombatants from the withholding of their right to life or humanitarian assistance. Considering that Israel has not ratified the GCIV, disputes may arise regarding their responsibility to cooperate with its provisions, which include non-exclusive clauses for non-ratifying parties to conflict. Secretary General Kofi Annan reinforced these grave concerns in a November 2003 report, claiming that the construction of the barrier wall “is in contradiction to international law,” and “increases suffering among the Palestinian people.”

To resolve this case, the Court must consider the obligations of Parties under preceding legislation adopted by organs of the United Nations, as well as the establishment of practices by customary international law.

Questions to consider: 

  • How do the Court and the referring body establish jurisdiction and competency in a matter of international peace and security, traditionally reserved for the Security Council, particularly considering arguments of political interference between sovereign territories?
  • What are the implications for human rights, self-determination, and diplomatic negotiations by the construction of this barrier wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory?
  • How might the Court apply customary law and the findings of external human rights organizations to this request?

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Bibliography Bibliography

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