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: H.R. 3583: Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act November 20, 2013 To expand the number of scholarships available to Pakistani women under the Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program.
- Bill Introduced: H.R. 2787: Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014 July 22, 2013 Making appropriations for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies 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 Sent To President: 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 - 60-Day Notice of Proposed Information Collection: Online Application for Nonimmigrant Visa December 5, 2013 The Department of State is seeking Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval for the information collection described below. In accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, we are requesting comments on this collection from all
- Notice - Meeting of the United States-Colombia Environmental Affairs Council and Environmental Cooperation Commission and Request for Comments on the Meeting Agendas December 4, 2013 The Department of State and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) are providing notice that the United States and Colombia intend to hold the first meeting of the Environmental Affairs Council (the ``Council'') and the first
- Notice - Notice of Meeting of Advisory Committee on International Law December 4, 2013
- Notice - Bureau of Political-Military Affairs; Administrative Debarment of LeAnne Lesmeister Under the Arms Export Control Act and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations December 3, 2013 Notice is hereby given that the Department of State has imposed administrative debarment pursuant to section 127.7(a) of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) (22 CFR parts 120 to 130) on LeAnne Lesmeister.
- Notice - Activities of the International Telecommunication Advisory Committee and Preparations for Upcoming International Telecommunications Meetings December 3, 2013
- Beyond FDI: The Influence of Bilateral Investment Treaties on Debt December 5, 2013 Wasseem Mina
- A Comparison between Shale Gas in China and Unconventional Fuel Development in the United States: Health, Water and Environmental Risks December 4, 2013 FEEM Working Paper No. 95.2013
- The Right to Development: A Binding Source of International Law or a Needless, Non-Enforceable, Right to Everything? December 4, 2013 Emerald de Leeuw
- The De-Privatization of American Warfare: How the U.S. Government Used, Regulated, and Ultimately Abandoned Privateering in the Nineteenth Century December 4, 2013 Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2007
- UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, 2010: Comment on Certain Revisions December 2, 2013 Indian Journal of Arbitration Law, Volume 2, Issue 2 (2013)
- Clause to avoid Mauritius treaty abuse - Times of India December 5, 2013 Clause to avoid Mauritius treaty abuseTimes of IndiaOf late, India has renegotiated and inserted LOB provisions in its tax treaties with several countries, including Singapore. Even the India-Singapore tax treaty exempts capital gains in India in the
- Hague Aus-Timor gas treaty talks continue, despite raids - ABC Online December 5, 2013 Sydney Morning HeraldHague Aus-Timor gas treaty talks continue, despite raidsABC OnlineTONY EASTLEY: The head of the East Timor delegation before the international court of arbitration at The Hague says it will not be deterred by recent raids on the
- East Timor seeks to scrap oil treaty with Australia in The Hague over spying ... - Sydney Morning Herald December 5, 2013 The AgeEast Timor seeks to scrap oil treaty with Australia in The Hague over spying ...Sydney Morning HeraldEast Timor argues that Australia broke international law. On Monday ASIO raided the Canberra office of former ACT attorney-general Bernard
- Video: Treaty or Not? The Affordable Care Act & Indian Country Ep. 2 - Indian Country Today Media Network December 5, 2013 Video: Treaty or Not? The Affordable Care Act & Indian Country Ep. 2Indian Country Today Media NetworkIn Episode 2 of Mark Trahant's video blog series on the Affordable Care Act and its impact on Indian country, Trahant takes a look at the
- Iran and the Non-Proliferation Treaty - CounterPunch December 5, 2013 Charlotte ObserverIran and the Non-Proliferation TreatyCounterPunchAny close reading of the 1968 "Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons" (NPT) clearly indicates that, even though the word "enrichment" is not used in the text, all signers
- Mandela's greatest gift December 5, 2013 Each of us will remember Nelson Mandela, who died today at age 95, in our own way. Powerful for me is the memory of Mandela's almost incomprehensible forgiveness his setting-aside of violence in order to bring to all of his people the promise
- President Obama Proposes to Limit Some NSA Surveillance December 5, 2013 That's the gist of tonight's report, from Politico's Josh Gerstein: President Barack Obama said Thursday that he'll be reining in some of the snooping conducted by the National Security Agency, but he did not detail what new limits he … Read
- New Take on the UN Special Rapporteurs' Reports on Drones December 5, 2013 In a series of posts this Fall, we highlighted recent reports by United Nations Special Rapporteurs about how the use of lethal force by remotely piloted aircraft (RPAS, or "drones") fits into existing international law, and some notable critiques of
- Farewell, Madiba December 5, 2013 Heartbreaking to learn that Nelson Mandela passed today. It's hard to express in words the influence this lion of a man has had on South Africa and the world; suffice to say that he was one of a handful of true heroes of our time. Mandela's humility
- Christian care worker loses Sunday working discrimination appeal Richard Wayman December 5, 2013 Mba v London Borough Of Merton  EWCA Civ 1562 Read judgment The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal of a Christian care worker against the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that a requirement that she work on Sundays