International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Winter 2013 Issue

Justice In Profile


Shunji Yanai, Japan
President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea

Judge Shunji YanaiBy: Carolyn A. Dubay, Associate Editor, International Judicial Monitof and Assistant Professor, Charlotte Law School

Judge Shunji Yanai of Japan currently serves as the President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, Germany.  Judge Yanai has been a member of ITLOS since 2005 and was elected President in October 2011 to serve a three-year renewable term. 

ITLOS is an independent judicial body established by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and is currently composed of 21 independent members. Among other responsibilities, ITLOS decides disputes relating to the interpretation and implementation of the Convention.  There are also a number of specialized chambers, including the Seabed Disputes Chamber (SBDC), which has 11 members, and hears disputes relating to the seabed, ocean floor and subsoil beyond the limits of any national jurisdiction.  Judge Yanai, as President of the Tribunal, serves as the President of the Chamber of Summary Procedure, which hears claims by summary procedure at the request of the parties, as well as provides provisional rulings when the Tribunal is not in session. Judge Shunji also serves as President of the Chamber for Maritime Delimitation Disputes.



Prior to becoming a member of ITLOS, Judge Yanai had a long and distinguished career as a Japanese diplomat.  Judge Yanai joined the Japanese foreign ministry in 1961 after receiving his LL.B. from the University of Tokyo.  He spent the next four decades rising to a number of important diplomatic positions, such as serving as the Director of the International Conventions Division, Director of the Legal Affairs Division, Director of the Treaties Division and Director-General of the Foreign Policy Bureau.  Judge Yanai rose to the level of Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and served in that position from 1997 to 1999, when he was appointed Ambassador to the United States in 1999.

In 2002 following his retirement from the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Judge Yanai entered academe and became a professor of international law at Chuo University in Tokyo from 2002 to 2007. Judge Yanai also served as a visiting professor of international law at Waseda University in Tokyo.  Judge Yanai is also a prolific author, drawing on his vast experience in diplomacy and international and maritime law. 

Beyond his role as President of ITLOS, Judge Yanai currently serves as President of the Japan Branch of the International Law Association.  Among his other past organizational appointments, Judge Yanai has served as a member of the Vienna Conference on the Law of Treaties from 1968 to 1969, the UN Outer Space Committee and Legal Sub-committee Sessions from 1973 to 1974, the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea from 1973 to 1978, and the Drafting Committee of the Law of the Territorial Sea in 1977. As a diplomat, he was also involved in fisheries negotiations with Indonesia, the Soviet Union and the Republic of Korea. 

Judge Yanai was born in Tokyo, Japan on January 15, 1937.

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© 2013 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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