Dr. Neeru Chadha: First Indian Women as Judge of ITLOS

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Dr. Neeru Chada

Neeru Chadha has won a crucial election to a top UN judicial body that deals with disputes related to the law of the sea, becoming the first Indian woman to be appointed as a judge at the tribunal. Ms. Chadha, an eminent lawyer and the first Indian woman to become the Chief Legal Adviser in the Ministry of External Affairs, won the election to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) for a nine-year term (2017 to 2026).

thequint2017-06d5599454-cec1-4e19-9c74-af469f503f8679ea0373-f257-4165-86b6-f232926eca2bDr. Chada was Additional Secretary and the Legal Advisor, Legal and Treaties Division, Ministry of External Affairs. She is educated from University of Michigan Law School. Dr. Chadha has an extensive international arbitration and litigation experience, having served as India’s representative for the Indian government in its maritime delimitation case with Bangladesh. She was also India’s representative for the case filed by Italy in ITLOS involving two Italian marines accused of shooting two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012.


The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ILTOS) is an independent judicial body established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention. The Convention was signed in Jamaica in the year 1982. The Tribunal is composed of 21 independent members, elected from among persons enjoying the highest reputation for fairness and integrity and of recognized competence in the field of the law of the sea.

The Tribunal is open to States Parties to the Convention (i.e. States and international organizations which are parties to the Convention). It is also open to entities other than States Parties, i.e., States or intergovernmental organisations which are not parties to the Convention, and to state enterprises and private entities “in any case expressly provided for in Part XI or in any case submitted pursuant to any other agreement conferring jurisdiction on the Tribunal which is accepted by all the parties to that case” (Statute, Article 20).

The Election to ILTOS

The Tribunal is consist of 21 independent members elected by secret ballot by the States Parties to the Convention. Each State Party may nominate up to two candidates from among persons enjoying the highest reputation for fairness and integrity and of recognized competence in the field of the law of the sea.

No two members may be nationals of the same State and in the Tribunal as a whole it is necessary to assure the representation of the principal legal systems of the world and equitable geographical distribution; there shall be no fewer than three members from each geographical group as established by the General Assembly of the United Nations (African States, Asian States, Eastern European States, Latin American and Caribbean States and Western European and Other States). Members are elected for nine years and may be re-elected; the terms of one-third of the members expire every three years.

The First Referred Dispute at ILTOS

The first case, The M/V “SAIGA” Case (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines v. Guinea), Prompt Release, was submitted to the Tribunal on November 13, 1997.  Till date, twenty-five cases have been submitted to the Tribunal.

Other Indians who made it to ILTOS

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  • Member of the Tribunal since 1 October 1996
  • Re-elected as from October 1, 1999, and October 1, 2008;
  • President of the Tribunal 1999-2002;
  • President of the Special Chamber formed to deal with the Case concerning the Conservation and Sustainable Exploitation of Swordfish Stocks in the South-Eastern Pacific Ocean 2000-2009

Chandrasekhara Rao initially worked as a researcher for the Indian Society of International Law (1963-67).From 1994 to 2000 he was President of the Indian Society of International Law. He then joined the Ministry of External Affairs (India) where he worked as a Law Officer (1967–1971) and subsequently Assistant Legal Adviser (1971–1976) in the Legal and Treaties Division. During this time, he acted as counsel for the Government of India in the case concerning an Appeal relating to the Jurisdiction of the ICAO (India v. Pakistan) before the International Court of Justice in 1972. Thereafter, Mr. Rao was appointed Legal Adviser to the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations (New York City)  (1972–1976). He continued to hold high-level posts in the Indian government’s Ministry of Justice, including Deputy Legislative Counsel, Additional Legal Adviser, Joint Secretary and Legal Adviser, Additional Secretary (1976–1988), Secretary (1988–1996), Union Ministry of Law and Sole Arbitrator in Government contracts (1979–1983). He was the Secretary-General of the International Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution, New Delhi (1995–1996). Since 1 October 1996, Rao has been a judge at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Currently, Mr. Chandrashekhar, an eminent jurist is a judge at the tribunal and his term will expire in September 2017.



  1. ILTOS: https://www.itlos.org/top/home/
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