International Law

Overview

What is international law?

International law, commonly referred to as "public international law," regulates relations and activities between nations. It also contains rules regarding the operations of international organizations, such as the United Nations. In addition, it governs state treatment of individuals and juridical persons (i.e., non-natural persons, such as a corporation, association or partnership).

International law is distinct from "private international law" (also known as "conflict of laws"), which regulates dealings between individuals and juridical persons from different nations.

Note that international law refers to nations as sovereign states. In this context, sovereign states does not mean states within a nation. Furthermore, in the United States, individual states lack authority to engage in international dealings. The U.S. Constitution explicitly denies states this power, and vests it with the federal government. (U.S. Const. Art. I, § 10).

International law encompasses several areas, such as international trade, the creation and dissolution of states, use of force (regarding when a state may initiate force against another state), armed conflict ("humanitarian law", which regulates how a state conducts an armed conflict), human rights (which are set forth in several international instruments, such as the Declaration of Human Rights), refugees, crimes, environment, labor, the sea, air space, and postal services.

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