Milestone ICJ ruling: Professor Dire Tladi to Serve as First Permanent South African Judge

By Raine St.Claire

Professor Dire Tladi was recently announced as one of five new judges by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. This historic appointment makes him the first South African to serve as a permanent judge in the 78-year history of the court – an unprecedented achievement for a South African citizen. The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, requires the expertise of highly skilled international lawyers.

Intellectual Achievements and Academic Excellence

Professor Tladi, a prominent scholar in International Law at the University of Pretoria, holds prestigious positions in International Constitutional Law and Global Equity for Africa, showcasing his expert qualifications. With a portfolio boasting over 100 academic publications, encompassing articles, books, and chapters, he has earned distinctions including a BLC LLB (cum laude), an LLM from the University of Connecticut, and a PhD from Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Beyond academia, Tladi’s decade-long membership in the United Nations International Law Commission, where he served as Chair in 2022, First Vice Chair in 2021, and Special Rapporteur on Peremptory Norms of General International Law from 2015 to 2022, attests to his significant contributions. His international engagements extend to his membership in the Institut de Droit International, where he actively contributes to the Programme Committee and assumes roles in commissions addressing social justice, global commons rules, and distributive justice.

As the President of the South African Branch of the International Law Association, he not only holds a leadership position but also actively engages in lecturing at the Hague Academy of International Law and UN regional courses. In the legal arena, Tladi served as lead counsel for South Africa at the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber and represented the African Union before the ICC Appeals Chamber in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan case. Currently, he acts as co-counsel for Sierra Leone and Mozambique in the Law of the Sea advisory opinion proceedings on climate change obligations, demonstrating a steadfast commitment to peaceful dispute resolution.

Notably, he has mediated the Ethiopia-Sudan-Lesotho dispute. His extensive involvement also encompasses serving as a legal expert in an International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes arbitration for the Government of Lesotho in Van Zyl v Lesotho. President Ramaphosa said that Prof. Tladi’s election as a judge was an outstanding personal achievement that the nation shared with great pride. He added, “Tladi’s appointment is a testament to the confidence expressed by the United Nations in his capabilities.”

ICJ at the Heart of Global Justice

Located at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), commonly referred to as the World Court, witnessed its founding members elected on February 6, 1946, during the inaugural session of the UN General Assembly and Security Council. Functioning as the primary venue for resolving legal disputes between States and providing advisory opinions to authorised UN organs, the ICJ holds a crucial role in international law. A notable case in January 2020 brought global attention when the ICJ ruled against Myanmar, compelling the protection of the Rohingya minority and the preservation of evidence related to genocide allegations. Initiated by The Gambia, this case underscores the ICJ’s pivotal role in addressing significant international legal matters.

Fifteen judges, chosen for their qualifications to ensure global representation, serve nine-year terms. Every three years, five seats are open for election, fostering diversity without constraints on consecutive terms. The promise of justice – a delicate balancing act Prof. Tladi’s nine-year term at the International Court of Justice that sits in The Hague starts in February 2024. He believes that “International law can embody justice, champion the vulnerable, and my goal is for the ICJ to enrich this concept of international law.

This entails instilling values and nurturing a sense of mutual care, all while respecting the established rules and methodologies of international law. Despite being a venture requiring a delicate equilibrium, it’s one I hope to contribute to in my nine years on the bench.”

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