Multilingualism and linguistic differences in ICJ cases: a real disadvantage for the application of international law?

Activiteit: Talk or presentation at a conference


Since the creation of the United Nations, multilingualism in international organisations has increased. However, this development of institutional multilingualism is not without consequences for international law, and one of its major repercussions is the proliferation of multilingual treaties, of which several language versions are equally authentic.
The translation of international treaties into several languages can affect the various stages in the creation of international law in many ways, whether during the negotiation or application of a bi- or multilingual international treaty. The existence of linguistic differences in these texts can give rise to different interpretations, raising the question of the application of the treaty and the version to be taken into account.

Although the International Court of Justice has only two working languages, it is affected by the multilingualism that reigns on the international scene at many levels. The drafting of its own Statute in French and English can lead to different interpretations of the text, with both versions being equally authentic, thus calling into question the Court's jurisdiction. Some States have also appealed to the ICJ to settle a dispute arising from linguistic differences between two versions of the same text.

However, the Court is not unarmed when it comes to the influence that multilingualism can have on the cases it has to hear. One of the tools available to the Court to interpret multilingual treaties and thus put an end to any linguistic discrepancies between two texts is Article 33 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
EvenementstitelJournées Internationales de la Société d’Histoire du Droit: Langues et paroles du droit
LocatieLausanne, Switzerland