International law

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Created in 1945, the United Nations is responsible for much of the current framework of international law.
The First Geneva Convention (1864) is one of the earliest formulations of international law.

International law is the set of rules generally regarded and accepted as binding in relations between states and between nations.[1][2] It serves as a framework for the practice of stable and organized international relations.[3] International law differs from state-based legal systems in that it is primarily applicable to countries rather than to private citizens. National law may become international law when treaties delegate national jurisdiction to supranational tribunals such as the European Court of Human Rights or the International Criminal Court. Treaties such as the Geneva Conventions may require national law to conform to respective parts.

Much of international law is consent-based governance. This means that a state member of the international community is not obliged to abide by this type of international law, unless it has expressly consented to a particular course of conduct.[4] This is an issue of state sovereignty. However, other aspects of international law are not consent-based but still are obligatory upon state and non-state actors such as customary international law and peremptory norms (jus cogens).

The term "international law" can refer to three distinct legal disciplines:

The two traditional branches of the field are:


The Italian thinker Sir Alberico Gentili is acknowledged to be the founder of the science of international law.[6]

International law has existed since the early-19th century. However, its philosophical origins are found in 16th century thinkers and jurists such as Alberico Gentili, Francisco de Vitoria and Hugo Grotius, the "fathers of international law."[7] Two sophisticated legal systems developed in the Western World: the codified systems of continental European states and English common law, (American civil law is based on English common law upon which the judge-made law of the United States is primarily based). In the 20th century, the two World Wars and the formation of the League of Nations (and other international organizations such as the International Labor Organization) all contributed to accelerate this process and established much of the foundations of modern public international law. After the failure of the Treaty of Versailles and World War II, the League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations, founded under the UN Charter. The UN has also been the locus for the development of new advisory (non-binding) standards, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Other international norms and laws have been established through international agreements, including the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war or armed conflict, as well as by agreements implemented by other international organizations such as the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Telecommunication Union, UNESCO, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund. The development and consolidation of such conventions and agreements have proven to be of great importance in international relations. However, some doubt the effectiveness of international law, as they see the implementation of international law as a policy option amongst others to tackle global dilemmas.[8] They argue that international law needs to be evaluated against other, potentially more effective, international law options. For example, before calling for an international framework on obesity control, other policy options and their effects should be considered.[9]

Sources of international law[edit]

International law is sourced from international decision makers and researchers looking to verify the substantive legal rule governing a legal dispute or academic discourse. The sources of international law applied by the community of nations to find the content of international law are listed under Article 38.1 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice: Treaties, international customs, and general principles are stated as the three primary sources; and judicial decisions and scholarly writings are expressly designated as the subsidiary sources of international law. Many scholars agree that the fact that the sources are arranged sequentially in the Article 38 of the ICJ Statute suggests an implicit hierarchy of sources.[10] However, there is no concrete evidence, in the decisions of the international courts and tribunals, to support such strict hierarchy, at least when it is about choosing international customs and treaties. In addition, unlike the Article 21 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which clearly defines hierarchy of applicable law (or sources of international law), the language of the Article 38 do not explicitly support hierarchy of sources.

The sources have been influenced by a range of political and legal theories. During the 20th century, it was recognized by legal positivists that a sovereign state could limit its authority to act by consenting to an agreement according to the principle pacta sunt servanda. This consensual view of international law was reflected in the 1920 Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice, which was succeeded by the United Nations Charter and is preserved in the United Nations Article 7 of the 1946 Statute of the International Court of Justice.[11]

Types of international law[edit]

Public international law[edit]

Public international law (or international public law) concerns the treaty relationships between the nations and persons which are considered the subjects of international law. Norms of international law have their source in either:

  1. custom, or customary international law (consistent state practice accompanied by opinio juris),
  2. globally accepted standards of behavior (peremptory norms known as jus cogens or ius cogens), or
  3. codifications contained in conventional agreements, generally termed treaties.

Article 13 of the United Nations Charter obligates the UN General Assembly to initiate studies and make recommendations which encourage the progressive development of international law and its codification. Evidence of consensus or state practice can sometimes be derived from intergovernmental resolutions or academic and expert legal opinions (sometimes collectively termed soft law).

Private international law[edit]

Main article: Conflict of laws

Conflict of laws, often called "private international law" in civil law jurisdictions is distinguished from public international law because it governs conflicts between private persons, rather than states (or other international bodies with standing). It concerns the questions of which jurisdiction should be permitted to hear a legal dispute between private parties, and which jurisdiction's law should be applied, therefore raising issues of international law. Today corporations are increasingly capable of shifting capital and labor supply chains across borders, as well as trading with overseas corporations. This increases the number of disputes of an inter-state nature outside a unified legal framework, and raises issues of the enforceability of standard practices. Increasing numbers of businesses use commercial arbitration under the New York Convention 1958.

Supranational law[edit]

Main article: Supranational law

The term "international law" refers to treaty law made in and between sovereign states. "Law" is defined as "a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority,"[12] whereas "sovereign" is defined as "supreme power or authority." Given this contradiction, nations have at times abrogated "International Laws" in their national interest. The term "world law" is the evolution of a system of law at the global level representing the sovereignty of the whole. Initial steps have been taken to evolve a system of supra-national laws, but true "world law" may await the evolution of a legislative body of, by, and for the people of the planet.

International courts[edit]

There are numerous international bodies created by treaties adjudicating on legal issues where they may have jurisdiction. The only one claiming universal jurisdiction is the United Nations Security Council. Others are: the United Nations International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Court (when national systems have totally failed and the Treaty of Rome is applicable) and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

East Africa Community[edit]

There were ambitions to make the East African Community, consisting of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, a political federation with its own form of binding supranational law but this effort did not materialize so far.

Union of South American Nations[edit]

The Union of South American Nations serves the South American continent. It intends to establish a framework akin to the European Union by the end of 2019. It is envisaged to have its own passport and currency, and limit barriers to trade.

Andean Community of Nations[edit]

The Andean Community of Nations is the first attempt to integrate the countries of the Andes Mountains in South America. It started with the Cartagena Agreement of 26 May 1969, and consists of four countries: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The Andean Community follows supranational laws, called Agreements, which are mandatory for these countries.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "international law". Houghton Mifflin Company. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  2. ^ The term was first used by Jeremy Bentham in his "Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation" in 1780. See Bentham, Jeremy (1789), An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, London: T. Payne, p. 6, retrieved 2012-12-05 
  3. ^ Slomanson, William (2011). Fundamental Perspectives on International Law. Boston, USA: Wadsworth. pp. 4–5. 
  4. ^ Slomanson, William (2011). Fundamental Perspectives on International Law. Boston, USA: Wadsworth. p. 4. 
  5. ^ There is an ongoing debate on the relationship between different branches of international law. Koskenniemi, Marti (September 2002). "Fragmentation of International Law? Postmodern Anxieties". Leiden Journal of International Law 15 (3): 553–579. doi:10.1017/S0922156502000262. Retrieved 30 January 2015.  Yun, Seira (2014). "Breaking Imaginary Barriers: Obligations of Armed Non-State Actors Under General Human Rights Law – The Case of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child". Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies 5 (1-2): 213–257. Retrieved 30 January 2015. 
  6. ^ Pagden, Anthony (1991). Vitoria: Political Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought). UK: Cambridge University Press. p. xvi. ISBN 0-521-36714-X. 
  7. ^ Thomas Woods Jr. (18 September 2012). How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Regnery Publishing, Incorporated, An Eagle Publishing Company. pp. 5, 141–142. ISBN 978-1-59698-328-1. 
  8. ^ S.J. Hoffman, J-A. Røttingen, J. Frenk. 2012. “The Economics of New International Health Laws,” The Lancet 380: S4. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60290-1.
  9. ^ S.J. Hoffman, J-A. Røttingen. 2011. “A Framework Convention on Obesity Control?” The Lancet 378(9809): 2068. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61894-1.
  10. ^ Slomanson, William (2011). Fundamental Perspectives on International Law. Boston, USA: Wadsworth. pp. 26–27. 
  11. ^ United Nations, Charter of the United Nations, 24 October 1945, 1 UNTS XVI [1]
  12. ^ Merriam-Webster Dictionary law


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