The government will field former Japanese ambassador to the United Nations and the Crown Princess’ father, Hisashi Owada, in an election for the post of a U.N. International Court of Justice judge, scheduled for late 2002, government sources said Wednesday.

The sources said that the government will make a formal decision by the end of this year to field the 68-year-old former top career diplomat in the election to succeed Shigeru Oda, a retiring Japanese ICJ judge.

Oda, a 75-year-old jurist, has been elected three times in a row to the ICJ post since 1976. Oda’s third nine-year term will expire in early 2003. If Owada is elected as an ICJ judge, he will be the third Japanese to take the post, after Kotaro Tanaka and Oda. The late Tanaka served as an ICJ judge from 1961 to 1970.

The ICJ is based in The Hague and consists of 15 judges. It is a permanent U.N. court handling legal conflicts between U.N. member nations. ICJ judges are elected by both the U.N. General Assembly and the 15-member U.N. Security Council.

Formally, Owada — or any other candidate — is supposed to run for the ICJ post as an individual, not as a government candidate. But the government needs to give a formal endorsement to his candidacy to launch an active diplomatic campaign as soon as possible for his election, the sources said.

The sources said that Owada himself has informally conveyed to the government a strong desire to run in the ICJ election. If he is elected as an ICJ judge in late 2002, Owada will likely serve only one nine-year term because of his age.

In recent years, Japan has vigorously pursued a more active international role, which it believes should reflect its position as the world’s No. 2 economy. The country has specifically been bidding for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and has fielded many candidates for key U.N. posts.

Among the Japanese currently serving in key U.N. posts are Sadako Ogata, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and Koichiro Matsuura, the head of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

For the Japanese government, however, fielding Owada in the ICJ election will be more than an effort to boost the country’s international standing.

“We are confident that Mr. Owada will win the election for an ICJ judge because he is well known globally as a prominent professor of international law,” one government source said. “But we must get ourselves worked up for the 2002 election because we must avoid at any cost an electoral defeat” for the Crown Princess’ father, the source said.

In Japanese diplomatic circles, an ambassador to the United States is regarded as the highest post for a career diplomat. Although Owada was initially seen as a leading candidate to take the post, he was eventually named as ambassador to the U.N. in 1994.

That was apparently because of strong objections from within political and other circles to having the Crown Princess’ father bear the brunt of tensions that occur in often politically sensitive ties with the U.S.

Owada was born in Shibata, Niigata Prefecture, in 1932 and joined the Foreign Ministry after graduating from the University of Tokyo. He also conducted post-graduate studies at Cambridge University from 1955 to 1959.

Owada served as an administrative vice foreign minister from 1991 to 1993 and held the post of top Japanese envoy at the U.N. from 1994 to 1998. Currently, Owada serves as President of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, a government-affiliated think tank in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

Owada has also taught at Harvard University, Columbia Law School and new York University Law School. He authored “Japanese Practice in the Field of International Law” in 1984, “From Involvement to Engagement — New Foreign Policy Directions of Japan” in 1994 and “Diplomacy” in 1996.

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