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World Court Digest

III. The International Court of Justice
2.3. The Optional Clause
2.3.4. Interpretation of a Declaration made under
Article 36, Paragraph 2, of the Statute

¤ Aerial Incident of 10 August 1999
(Pakistan v. India)
Jurisdiction of the Court,
Judgment of 21 June 2000

[pp. ] 42. The Court at the outset recalls that any declaration "must be interpreted as it stands, having regard to the words actually used" (Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., Preliminary Objection, Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 1952, p. 105), and that a reservation must be given effect "as it stands" (Certain Norwegian Loans, Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 1957, p. 27). Moreover, as the Court stated in the case concerning Fisheries Jurisdiction (Spain v. Canada), it

"will ... interpret the relevant words of a declaration including a reservation contained therein in a natural and reasonable way, having due regard to the intention of the State concerned at the time when it accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court" (I.C.J. Reports 1998, p. 454, para. 49).

43. The four declarations whereby, since its independence in 1947, India has accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court have all contained a Commonwealth reservation. In its most recent form, that of 18 September 1974, the reservation was amended so as to cover "disputes with the government of any State which is or has been a Member of the Commonwealth of Nations".

44. While the historical reasons for the initial appearance of the Commonwealth reservation in the declarations of certain States under the optional clause may have changed or disappeared, such considerations cannot, however, prevail over the intention of a declarant State, as expressed in the actual text of its declaration. India has repeatedly made clear that it wishes to limit in this manner the scope ratione personae of its acceptance of the Court's jurisdiction. Whatever may have been the reasons for this limitation, the Court is bound to apply it.