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By a letter dated 19 December 1994, filed in the Registry on 6 January 1995, the Secretary-General of the United Nations officially communicated to the Registry a decision taken by the General Assembly, by its resolution 49/75 K adopted on 15 December 1994, to submit to the Court, for advisory opinion, the following question : “Is the threat or use of nuclear weapons in any circumstance permitted under international law ?” The resolution asked the Court to render its advisory opinion “urgently”. Written statements were filed by 28 States, and subsequently written observations on those statements were presented by two States. In the course of the oral proceedings, which took place in October and November 1995, 22 States presented oral statements.

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On 8 July 1996, the Court rendered its Advisory Opinion. Having concluded that it had jurisdiction to render an opinion on the question put to it and that there was no compelling reason to exercise its discretion not to render an opinion, the Court found that the most directly relevant applicable law was that relating to the use of force, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter, and the law applicable in armed conflict, together with any specific treaties on nuclear weapons that the Court might find relevant.

The Court then considered the question of the legality or illegality of the use of nuclear weapons in the light of the provisions of the Charter relating to the threat or use of force. It observed, , that those provisions applied to any use of force, regardless of the weapons employed. In addition it stated that the principle of proportionality might not in itself exclude the use of nuclear weapons in self-defence in all circumstances. However at the same time, a use of force that was proportionate under the law of self-defence had, in order to be lawful, to meet the requirements of the law applicable in armed conflict, including, in particular, the principles and rules of humanitarian law. It pointed out that the notions of a “threat” and “use” of force within the meaning of Article 2, paragraph 4, of the Charter stood together in the sense that if the use of force itself in a given case was illegal — for whatever reason — the threat to use such force would likewise be illegal.