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NZ backs Sir Kenneth Keith for ICJ

NZ backs Sir Kenneth Keith for ICJ

New Zealand is supporting senior Court of Appeal judge Sir Kenneth Keith's bid to be elected to the International Court of Justice, Foreign Minister Phil Goff announced today.

“The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the world’s pre-eminent international court and we’re fortunate to have in Sir Kenneth Keith a person who has the necessary outstanding qualifications to serve on it," Mr Goff said.

“New Zealand is deeply committed to the international rule of law. We have been a consistent supporter of the ICJ, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, and the contribution it has made to ensure that the rule of law is established and respected at the global level.

“A New Zealander has never been elected to the ICJ before. However Sir Kenneth's background makes him an ideal candidate whose skill, experience, independence and integrity will enhance the reputation of the Court.

"He also has first-hand experience of the Court's operations as a member of the New Zealand team that challenged the legality of French nuclear tests in the Pacific in 1973, 1974 and 1995.

"We will work hard to support his election, recognising that judges are elected to the Court in an individual capacity, based on their qualities."

Mr Goff welcomed the strong support for Sir Kenneth's candidature from Pacific Islands Forum leaders at the recent Forum in Auckland.

“Sir Kenneth has served on several superior courts in the Pacific, including those of Fiji and Samoa, and I believe he would be able to bring a regional perspective to issues coming before the ICJ.

“Australia and Canada have agreed to support Sir Kenneth's candidature, which we greatly appreciate. We share many of the same legal traditions and perspectives on key rule of law issues, and can mutually benefit from a candidate from one of our countries serving on the ICJ from time to time.”

Mr Goff said the seat Sir Kenneth hoped to gain – one of 15 in the Court – was not up for election until late 2005 but an early announcement of his bid was being made to help build international support.

International Court of Justice background

The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, established under the United Nations Charter and the associated Statute of the Court.

Its principal function is to decide cases submitted to it by states that have accepted its jurisdiction, but it can in addition provide advisory opinions to the General Assembly and Security Council on any legal question and to the various organs of the UN on any legal questions arising within the scope of their activities.

Since its establishment in 1946, it has handed down important decisions across a range of issues, including its advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons, a case with which New Zealand was associated.

New Zealand also took cases before the Court, along with Australia, to challenge the legality of French nuclear tests in the Pacific, in 1973, 1974 in relation to atmospheric tests and in 1995 (with the support of several other Pacific states as well) in relation to underground tests.

Sir Kenneth Keith was part of the New Zealand legal team that presented the cases before the Court.

The Court comprises 15 members who are elected to serve for a term of nine years. Elections are held every three years, with five seats coming up for election each time.

Candidates for election are nominated by national groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration or similar groups. In New Zealand’s case, membership of our National Group of the PCA is made up of Sir Kenneth Keith, the Attorney-General, the Chief Justice and the Solicitor-General. The New Zealand National Group (with Sir Kenneth absenting himself from its deliberations) has indicated its willingness formally to nominate Sir Kenneth at the appropriate time.

Two seats on the Court identified as available to individuals from countries forming part of what is described as the “Western European and Others Group” in the United Nations electoral grouping system (comprising Western European states, the United States and Canada, and Australia and New Zealand) come up for election in 2005. It is one of these seats that Sir Kenneth Keith would be seeking. Individuals are elected in their individual capacities and based on their individual merit for the position.

Relevant features of Sir Kenneth Keith’s career

Senior member of the Court of Appeal, the highest court based in New Zealand, on which he has served since 1996.

Served for many years as an Appeals Judge in Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue. Member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Associate member of the prestigious Institut du Droit International, a body representing the highest circle of international legal scholars, and is President of the International Fact Finding Commission, established under the aegis of the Geneva Conventions relating to international humanitarian law.

Has had important international legal experience including arbitral roles in the Rainbow Warrior and Southern Blue Fin Tuna cases, as counsel in the ICJ cases against French nuclear testing, and as Chair of a NAFTA Panel (UPS v. Canada).

Current Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the Law Faculty at Victoria University in Wellington, and a lecturer in international law.

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