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.
How is international law enforced?
International law differs from domestic law. In the United States, the federal and state governments enforce domestic American law. However, in terms of international law, no government or international organization enforces international law. Although the United Nations Security Council may pass measures authorizing enforcement, the enforcement entity envisioned (Art. 43) to carry out such measures never materialized due to the failure of member states to provide the necessary resources (such as troops). (An enforcement body should not be confused with existing United Nations peacekeeping forces, whose function is to maintain peace and security, not to enforce breaches of international law.)
How are international disputes resolved?
International disputes sometimes result in armed conflict between states, despite the prohibition of aggressive force (meaning, force not used in self-defense) (United Nations Charter, Art. 2(4)). However, most disputes between states are settled peacefully. Pacific settlement is often reached by diplomatic means, whereby states voluntarily comply with international law amidst pressure from other states. Another peaceful settlement mechanism is submission of the matter by the disputing states to an international tribunal, court, or arbitration.
What are the sources of international law?
- International agreements
- Customary law
- jus cogens (meaning "strong law" or "compelling law")
- resolutions passed by international organizations (in some circumstances)
- to an extent, decisions of international tribunals, courts, and arbitrations (depending upon the underlying agreement to arbitrate)
- some general principles of law
- judicial decisions and academic treatises (but only as auxiliary sources)
International agreements (such as treaties, conventions, covenants and protocols) between states are the oldest sources of international law. The earliest known treaty dates back to 1380 B.C., to an alliance between the Hittite King Suppiluliuma I and Aziras of Amurru (a North Syrian province of the Egyptian empire).
Customary law is law developed out of a practice by states of adhering to a particular custom out of a sense of obligation.
Jus cogens describes peremptory norms of international law from which no derogation by treaty is permitted. (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Arts. 53, 64). For example, nations may not contract out of the law forbidding slavery.
In special circumstances, international organizations can create binding law. Resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter may be binding on member states (Arts. 41, 42, 48, 49). An example of such a resolution is one that orders sanctions against a state in response to a breach of international law which threatens international peace and security.
Opinions issued by international tribunals (including courts and arbitration) comprise law to the extent that they are binding upon the states-parties to the proceeding. Such decisions are not binding on non-parties, but may serve to reveal the composition of international law to other states and tribunals.
Other sources of international law may be inferred from those available to the International Court of Justice (the "ICJ," also known as "the World Court," the main judicial organ of the United Nations). In addition to the sources already mentioned, the World Court may rely on general legal principles "as recognized by civilized nations" in deducing international law (Statute of the ICJ, Art. 38). The Court may also draw upon, as secondary sources, "judicial decisions and teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations" in determining the rules of international law (Statute of the ICJ, Art. 38).
- Bill Introduced: S. 2238: Crimea Annexation Non-recognition Act of 2014 April 9, 2014 A bill to ensure that the United States Government in no way recognizes Russia's annexation of Crimea.
- Bill Introduced: H.R. 3547: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 November 19, 2013 Making consolidated appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2014, and for other purposes.
- Bill Introduced: S.Res. 724: A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on the horrific terrorist attacks and siege in Mumbai, India, beginning on November 26, 2008, and concluding on November 29, 2008. December 8, 2008 A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on the horrific terrorist attacks and siege in Mumbai, India, beginning on November 26, 2008, and concluding on November 29, 2008.
- Bill Enacted: H.R. 1424: Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 October 2, 2008 To amend section 712 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, section 2705 of the Public Health Service Act, and section 9812 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to require equity in the provision of mental health and
- Bill Introduced: S. 3680: Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008 October 1, 2008 A bill to amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to provide for thorium fuel cycle nuclear power generation.
- Notice - Application by Plains Pipeline, L.P. for Issuance of a Presidential Permit To Operate and Maintain Existing Pipeline Facilities on the Border of the United States and Canada April 18, 2014 Due to technical difficulties with the submission of public comments through regulations.gov pertaining to Public Notice 8640, published on February 20, 2014 (79 FR 9786), the Department of State is extending the period for public comment that began
- Notice - Shipping Coordinating Committee; Notice of Committee Meeting April 18, 2014
- Rule - Amendment to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations: Changes to Authorized Officials and the UK Defense Trade Treaty Exemption; Correction of Errors in Lebanon Policy and Violations; and Adoption of Recent Amendments as Final; Correction April 17, 2014 The Department of State is correcting the inadvertent omission of regulatory text in a recent final rule.
- Rule - Amendment to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations: Central African Republic April 17, 2014 The Department of State is amending the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to provide the defense trade policy regarding the Central African Republic to reflect certain resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council.
- Notice - Notice of Receipt of Cultural Property Request From the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt April 16, 2014
- A Justice Paradox: On Climate Change, Small Island Developing States, and the Quest for Effective Legal Remedy April 20, 2014 University of Hawaii Law Review, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2013
- Critical Views on the French Approach to 'Net Neutrality' April 19, 2014 Journal of Internet Law. 03/2013; 16(9):18
- Stopping Genocide Through International Agreement When the Security Council Fails to Act April 19, 2014 Georgetown Journal of International Law, Vol. 40, No. 311, 2009
- Partition and Revelation April 19, 2014 81 University of Chicago Law Review 27 (2014)
- The Responsibility to Protect in a Reformed UN Security Council: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? April 19, 2014 Nadia Banteka
- 40 Years Ago: Blue Oyster Cult Release 'Secret Treaties' - Ultimate Classic Rock April 19, 2014 40 Years Ago: Blue Oyster Cult Release 'Secret Treaties'Ultimate Classic RockWhen Long Island, New York's Blue Oyster Cult released 'Secret Treaties' in March of 1974, their future standing as bona fide hard rock legends was
- Uganda's military intervention in South Sudan under international law - Sudan Tribune April 19, 2014 Uganda's military intervention in South Sudan under international lawSudan TribuneFurthermore, none from international law doctrines nor UN/AU treaties warrants the arrogant president's intervention in South Sudan's sovereignty on the
- Northwest lawmakers urge action on Columbia River Treaty - The Columbian (blog) April 18, 2014 Northwest lawmakers urge action on Columbia River TreatyThe Columbian (blog)Northwest lawmakers this week urged President Barack Obama to prioritize action on an international treaty regional leaders say could have big implications for Southwest
- Russia blocks US from treaty-approved spy flights - Fox News April 18, 2014 Russia blocks US from treaty-approved spy flightsFox News... administration's arms control-centered security policies. Russia recently was accused of violating and circumventing other arms treaties, including the 2010 New START arms treaty and
- Murray, Hastings call for action on Columbia River Treaty - The Columbian April 18, 2014 The ColumbianMurray, Hastings call for action on Columbia River TreatyThe ColumbianThe treaty between the United States and Canada has provided the framework for flood control and coordinated hydropower generation on the Columbia River since it was
- Reminder: ILW Proposals Due April 23 April 20, 2014 014 International Law Weekend will be held from October 23-25, 2014 in New York City. ILW is sponsored and organized by the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA) and the International Law Students Association (ILSA). This
- ICJ anti-whaling judgment appears to have whetted Japan opponents' appetites April 19, 2014 Some lawmakers and lobbyists in Japan displayed their distaste for whaling bans this week with a whale-meat eat-in in Tokyo. The Japan Daily Press reported: 'In an act of defiance against a recent ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ)
- Kiobel Anniversary Surprise: Judge Scheindlin Rules Corporations May Be Held Liable Under ATS, Despite Second Circuit Precedents April 19, 2014 In a surprising decision issued on the first anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Kiobel, Judge Scheindlin held, in the long-running Apartheid litigation, that corporations may be sued under the Alien Tort Statute. Her decision directly
- Lawfare Podcast Episode #71: A Conversation with John Rizzo April 19, 2014 I had meant to have a book review of former CIA lawyer John Rizzo's new book, Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA, ready to run along with this episode of the podcast. But I'm still working on the review, which will be up
- Should Hate Speech Be Protected? Group Defamation, Party Bans, Holocaust Denial and the Divide between (France) Europe and the United States. April 19, 2014 Ioanna Tourkochoriti, a Wertheim Fellow at Harvard Law School, has posted a new article on SSRN. From the abstract: Abstract: The 2011 legislative proposal by the French Government to criminalize denial of the Armenian Genocide and the