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It has over time been widely accepted as the fundamental norms of human rights that everyone should respect and protect. A series of international human rights treaties and other instruments adopted since have conferred legal form on inherent human rights and developed the body of international human rights.

Other instruments have been adopted at the regional level reflecting the particular human rights concerns of the region and providing for specific mechanisms of protection. Most States have also adopted constitutions and other laws which formally protect basic human rights. While international treaties and customary law form the backbone of international human rights law other instruments, such as declarations, guidelines and principles adopted at the international level contribute to its understanding, implementation and development.

Respect for human rights requires the establishment of the rule of law at the national and international levels. International human rights law lays down obligations which States are bound to respect.


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By becoming parties to international treaties, States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights. The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses.

The obligation to fulfil means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights. Through ratification of international human rights treaties , Governments undertake to put into place domestic measures and legislation compatible with their treaty obligations and duties. Where domestic legal proceedings fail to address human rights abuses, mechanisms and procedures for individual complaints or communications are available at the regional and international levels to help ensure that international human rights standards are indeed respected, implemented, and enforced at the local level.

General principles of law are those commonly recognized by the major legal systems of the world. Certain norms of international law achieve the binding force of peremptory norms jus cogens as to include all states with no permissible derogations. International law establishes the framework and the criteria for identifying states as the principal actors in the international legal system. As the existence of a state presupposes control and jurisdiction over territory, international law deals with the acquisition of territory, state immunity and the legal responsibility of states in their conduct with each other.

International law is similarly concerned with the treatment of individuals within state boundaries. There is thus a comprehensive regime dealing with group rights, the treatment of aliens , the rights of refugees , international crimes , nationality problems, and human rights generally. It further includes the important functions of the maintenance of international peace and security, arms control, the pacific settlement of disputes and the regulation of the use of force in international relations. Even when the law is not able to stop the outbreak of war, it has developed principles to govern the conduct of hostilities and the treatment of prisoners.

International law is also used to govern issues relating to the global environment, the global commons such as international waters and outer space , global communications, and world trade. In theory all states are sovereign and equal. As a result of the notion of sovereignty, the value and authority of international law is dependent upon the voluntary participation of states in its formulation, observance, and enforcement.

Although there may be exceptions, it is thought by many international academics that most states enter into legal commitments with other states out of enlightened self-interest rather than adherence to a body of law that is higher than their own. Greig notes, "international law cannot exist in isolation from the political factors operating in the sphere of international relations ". Traditionally, sovereign states and the Holy See were the sole subjects of international law. With the proliferation of international organizations over the last century, they have in some cases been recognized as relevant parties as well.

Recent interpretations of international human rights law , international humanitarian law , and international trade law e. The conflict between international law and national sovereignty is subject to vigorous debate and dispute in academia, diplomacy, and politics. Certainly, there is a growing trend toward judging a state's domestic actions in the light of international law and standards. Numerous people now view the nation-state as the primary unit of international affairs, and believe that only states may choose to voluntarily enter into commitments under international law, and that they have the right to follow their own counsel when it comes to interpretation of their commitments.

Certain scholars [ who? This especially occurs when states violate or deviate from the expected standards of conduct adhered to by all civilized nations. A number of states place emphasis on the principle of territorial sovereignty, thus seeing states as having free rein over their internal affairs. Other states oppose this view. One group of opponents of this point of view, including many European nations, maintain that all civilized nations have certain norms of conduct expected of them, including the prohibition of genocide , slavery and the slave trade , wars of aggression , torture , and piracy , and that violation of these universal norms represents a crime, not only against the individual victims, but against humanity as a whole.

States and individuals who subscribe to this view opine that, in the case of the individual responsible for violation of international law, he "is become, like the pirate and the slave trader before him, hostis humani generis , an enemy of all mankind", [28] and thus subject to prosecution in a fair trial before any fundamentally just tribunal, through the exercise of universal jurisdiction.

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Though the European democracies tend to support broad, universalistic interpretations of international law, many other democracies have differing views on international law. Several democracies, including India , Israel and the United States , take a flexible, eclectic approach, recognizing aspects of international law such as territorial rights as universal, regarding other aspects as arising from treaty or custom, and viewing certain aspects as not being subjects of international law at all. Democracies in the developing world, due to their past colonial histories, often insist on non-interference in their internal affairs, particularly regarding human rights standards or their peculiar institutions, but often strongly support international law at the bilateral and multilateral levels, such as in the United Nations, and especially regarding the use of force, disarmament obligations, and the terms of the UN Charter.

The law of the sea is the area of international law concerning the principles and rules by which states and other entities interact in maritime matters. The law of the sea is distinct from admiralty law also known as maritime law , which concerns relations and conduct at sea by private entities. It is probably the case that almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all of their obligations almost all the time.

Getting Started in International Law: What I Wish I Had Known From the Start

Since international law has no established compulsory judicial system for the settlement of disputes or a coercive penal system , it is not as straightforward as managing breaches within a domestic legal system. However, there are means by which breaches are brought to the attention of the international community and some means for resolution. For example, there are judicial or quasi-judicial tribunals in international law in certain areas such as trade and human rights.

The formation of the United Nations , for example, created a means for the world community to enforce international law upon members that violate its charter through the Security Council. Since international law exists in a legal environment without an overarching "sovereign" i. In many cases, enforcement takes on Coasian characteristics, where the norm is self-enforcing. In other cases, defection from the norm can pose a real risk, particularly if the international environment is changing. When this happens, and if enough states or enough powerful states continually ignore a particular aspect of international law, the norm may actually change according to concepts of customary international law.

For example, prior to World War I, unrestricted submarine warfare was considered a violation of international law and ostensibly the casus belli for the United States' declaration of war against Germany. Apart from a state's natural inclination to uphold certain norms, the force of international law comes from the pressure that states put upon one another to behave consistently and to honor their obligations.

As with any system of law, many violations of international law obligations are overlooked. If addressed, it may be through diplomacy and the consequences upon an offending state's reputation, submission to international judicial determination, [33] [34] arbitration, [35] sanctions [36] or force including war. States may also unilaterally adopt sanctions against one another such as the severance of economic or diplomatic ties, or through reciprocal action. In some cases, domestic courts may render judgment against a foreign state the realm of private international law for an injury, though this is a complicated area of law where international law intersects with domestic law.

It is implicit in the Westphalian system of nation-states, and explicitly recognized under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations , that all states have the inherent right to individual and collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against them.


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Article 51 of the UN Charter guarantees the right of states to defend themselves until and unless the Security Council takes measures to keep the peace. As a "deliberative, policymaking and representative organ", the United Nations General Assembly "is empowered to make recommendations"; it can neither codify international law nor make binding resolutions. The Assembly also declared, by its adoption of resolution A , that it could call for other collective measures—such as economic and diplomatic sanctions—in situations constituting the milder "threat to the Peace".

The Uniting for Peace resolution was initiated by the United States in , shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War , as a means of circumventing possible future Soviet vetoes in the Security Council. The legal role of the resolution is clear, given that the General Assembly can neither issue binding resolutions nor codify law.

It was never argued by the "Joint Seven-Powers" that put forward the draft resolution, [40] during the corresponding discussions, that it in any way afforded the Assembly new powers. Instead, they argued that the resolution simply declared what the Assembly's powers already were, according to the UN Charter, in the case of a dead-locked Security Council. Alleged violations of the Charter can also be raised by states in the Security Council. In rare cases, the Security Council can adopt resolutions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, related to "threats to Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression," which are legally binding under international law, and can be followed up with economic sanctions, military action, and similar uses of force through the auspices of the United Nations.

It has been argued that resolutions passed outside of Chapter VII can also be binding; the legal basis for that is the Council's broad powers under Article 24 2 , which states that "in discharging these duties exercise of primary responsibility in international peace and security , it shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations". The binding nature of such resolutions can be deduced from an interpretation of their language and intent.

States can also, upon mutual consent, submit disputes for arbitration by the International Court of Justice , located in The Hague , Netherlands. The judgments given by the Court in these cases are binding, although it possesses no means to enforce its rulings. The Court may give an advisory opinion on any legal question at the request of whatever body may be authorized by or in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations to make such a request. Some of the advisory cases brought before the court have been controversial with respect to the court's competence and jurisdiction.

Often enormously complicated matters, ICJ cases of which there have been less than since the court was created from the Permanent Court of International Justice in can stretch on for years and generally involve thousands of pages of pleadings, evidence, and the world's leading specialist international lawyers. As of June , there are 15 cases pending at the ICJ. Decisions made through other means of arbitration may be binding or non-binding depending on the nature of the arbitration agreement, whereas decisions resulting from contentious cases argued before the ICJ are always binding on the involved states.

Though states or increasingly, international organizations are usually the only ones with standing to address a violation of international law, some treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have an optional protocol that allows individuals who have had their rights violated by member states to petition the international Human Rights Committee. Investment treaties commonly and routinely provide for enforcement by individuals or investing entities. 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. 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 has not materialized.

It intends to establish a framework akin to the European Union by the end of It is envisaged to have its own passport and currency, and limit barriers to trade. The Andean Community follows supranational laws, called Agreements, which are mandatory for these countries. International legal theory comprises a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used to explain and analyse the content, formation and effectiveness of international law and institutions and to suggest improvements.

Some approaches center on the question of compliance: why states follow international norms in the absence of a coercive power that ensures compliance. Other approaches focus on the problem of the formation of international rules: why states voluntarily adopt international law norms, that limit their freedom of action, in the absence of a world legislature; while other perspectives are policy oriented: they elaborate theoretical frameworks and instruments to criticize the existing norms and to make suggestions on how to improve them.

Some of these approaches are based on domestic legal theory , some are interdisciplinary , and others have been developed expressly to analyse international law. Classical approaches to International legal theory are the Natural law , the Eclectic and the Legal positivism schools of thought. The natural law approach argues that international norms should be based on axiomatic truths. In Hugo Grotius argued that nations as well as persons ought to be governed by universal principle based on morality and divine justice while the relations among polities ought to be governed by the law of peoples, the jus gentium , established by the consent of the community of nations on the basis of the principle of pacta sunt servanda , that is, on the basis of the observance of commitments.

On his part, Emmerich de Vattel argued instead for the equality of states as articulated by 18th-century natural law and suggested that the law of nations was composed of custom and law on the one hand, and natural law on the other. During the 17th century, the basic tenets of the Grotian or eclectic school, especially the doctrines of legal equality, territorial sovereignty , and independence of states, became the fundamental principles of the European political and legal system and were enshrined in the Peace of Westphalia.

The early positivist school emphasized the importance of custom and treaties as sources of international law. Cornelius van Bynkershoek asserted that the bases of international law were customs and treaties commonly consented to by various states, while John Jacob Moser emphasized the importance of state practice in international law.

The positivism school narrowed the range of international practice that might qualify as law, favouring rationality over morality and ethics. The Congress of Vienna marked the formal recognition of the political and international legal system based on the conditions of Europe. Modern legal positivists consider international law as a unified system of rules that emanates from the states' will. International law, as it is, is an " objective " reality that needs to be distinguished from law "as it should be. Nation-states observe the principle of par in parem non habet imperium , 'Between equals there is no sovereign power'.

John Austin therefore asserted that 'so-called' international law, lacking a sovereign power and so unenforceable, was not really law at all, but 'positive morality', consisting of 'opinions and sentiments Article 2 1 of the UN Charter confirms this Sovereignty of Nations; no state is in subjection to any other state. For treaties bind only those who sign them. Since states are few in number, diverse and atypical in character, unindictable, lacking a centralised sovereign power, and their agreements unpoliced and decentralised, [49] then, says Wight, 'international society is not a society at all.

The condition of international relations is best described as international anarchy;. This is why international politics is called power politics War is the only means by which states can in the last resort defend vital interests On the subject of treaty law, Charles de Gaulle said this; 'Treaties are like pretty girls, or roses; they last only as long as they last.

For Hans Morgenthau , international law is the weakest and most primitive system of law enforcement. Its decentralised nature makes it similar to the law that prevails in preliterate tribal societies. Morgenthau asserts that no state may be compelled to submit a dispute to an international tribunal, making laws unenforceable and voluntary.

Later surveys have produced similar contradictory results. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the 18th-century political treatise, see The Law of Nations. Main article: History of international law.

International Law Association

See also: Monism and dualism in international law. Main article: Law of the Sea. Main articles: Intergovernmental organization and Global administrative law. See also: Conflicts of laws. Main articles: International human rights law and Human rights. International labour sources. Workers' Representatives Convention, Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, Holidays with Pay Convention Revised , Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, Termination of Employment Convention, Employment Policy Convention, Private Employment Agencies Convention, Employment Promotion and Protection against Unemployment Convention, Social Security Minimum Standards Convention, Singapore Ministerial Declaration 13 December Brussels I Regulation EC , recital 13, arts Rome I Regulation EC recitals , art 8.


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    Main articles: International criminal law and International Criminal Court. This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. October Main article: International Court of Justice. Main article: East African Community. Main article: Union of South American Nations. Main article: Andean Community of Nations. Main article: International legal theories. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved Houghton Mifflin Company.

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    Retrieved 13 September Payne, p. Fundamental Perspectives on International Law. Boston, USA: Wadsworth. Koskenniemi, Marti September Postmodern Anxieties". Leiden Journal of International Law. Retrieved 30 January