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ICJ ruling on Corfu Channel Case (9 April 1949)

Date of publication: 09/02/1949

The Corfu Channel case was the first contentious case heard by the International Court of Justice, the supreme arbitration organ of the United Nations and one of the principal sources of authoritative rulings on international law.

Brought in 1947 and ruled on in 1949, the case involved a series of incidents in 1946 in the Corfu channel between Albania and Corfu.  Royal Navy ships had been shot at and had struck mines laid by Albania.  They then entered Albanian territorial waters to seize mines with a view to proving that they had indeed been laid.  When the case went to the ICJ, the United Kingdom argued that its actions were justified in the name of a new theory of intervention, according to which a state had the right to seize evidence, even if in the territory of another state, for the purpose of submitting the evidence to an international tribunal.

In its ruling, the Court explicitly rejected this line of defence.  

"The Court can only regard the alleged right of intervention as the manifestation of a policy of force, such as has, in the past, given rise to most serious abuses and such as cannot, whatever be the present defects in international organisation, find a place in international law.  Intervention is perhaps still less inadmissible in the particular form it would take here; for, from the nature of things, it would be reserved for the most powerful States, and might easily lead to perverting the administration of international justice itself."  (page 36).

The full text of the ruling can be found on the ICJ web site.


Centre for the Study of Interventionism