In the spring of 1999, the NATO allies conducted a bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for several weeks. The campaign was a response to the failure of negotiations at Rambouillet, France, relating to a situation in Kosovo that United Nations agencies had characterized as a “humanitarian crisis.” In late April, only a few days after filing an Optional Clause declaration under the Statute of the International Court of Justice accepting the compulsory jurisdiction of the court subject to reservations, Yugoslavia initiated proceedings in the court against ten NATO allies, including Canada. The application was accompanied by a request for the indication of “provisional measures” pursuant to the statute, enjoining the NATO allies from continuing the use of force against Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia relied upon its new declaration and upon the compromissary clause of the Genocide Convention as grounds of jurisdiction. In June 1999, the court refused the request for provisional measures on the ground that it lacked prima facie jurisdiction. Canada and other remaining respondents filed preliminary objections on jurisdiction and admissibility. The objections on jurisdiction were based on the grounds that had been advanced at the provisional measures stage and largely endorsed by the court: first, that Yugoslavia was not then a member of the United Nations and was therefore not entitled to make an Optional Clause declaration; second, that the declaration was limited to future disputes; and, third, that the subject matter of the dispute was not covered by the Genocide Convention, which could therefore not be invoked to establish jurisdiction.
Following oral hearings in April 2004, the court ruled in a judgment of 15 December 2004 that it lacked jurisdiction. The ruling was based exclusively on the fact that Yugoslavia lacked United Nations membership and standing in the court in 1999. The judgment concludes that the exception in Article 35(2) of the statute relating to “treaties in force” does not entitle a non-member of the United Nations to appear before the court in a matter related to the Genocide Convention, which the Court interprets as applying only to treaties in existence before 1945. This reasoning came as a surprise, since the court had assiduously avoided the issue of UN membership both in its provisional measures ruling and in its decisions in closely related proceedings taken by Bosnia and Croatia against Yugoslavia pursuant to the Genocide Convention. It remains to be seen how the judgment will be reconciled with rulings already made on jurisdiction in the proceedings taken by Bosnia, where jurisdiction has already been confirmed and where hearings on the merits are scheduled for 2006.