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 Sent To President: H.R. 3212: Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013 July 28, 2014 To ensure compliance with the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction by countries with which the United States enjoys reciprocal obligations, to establish procedures for the prompt return of children abducted to
- Bill Enacted: H.R. 3547: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 January 16, 2014 Making consolidated appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2014, and for other purposes.January 17, 2014: Became Public Law No: 113-76.
- 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.
- Rule - Personnel; Changes in Statutory Authority; Technical Corrections; Liability for Neglect of Duty or for Malfeasance Generally; Repeal of Regulation July 25, 2014 The Department of State is repealing the regulation that provides for personal liability for Consular Officers in cases of malfeasance, and provides updates to citations of authorities. The deleted regulation, which was promulgated in 1957 and last
- Notice - Culturally Significant Objects Imported for Exhibition Determinations: "Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities: Painting, Poetry, Music" Exhibition July 25, 2014 Notice is hereby given of the following determinations: Pursuant to the authority vested in me by the Act of October 19, 1965 (79 Stat. 985; 22 U.S.C. 2459), Executive Order 12047 of March 27, 1978, the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of
- Notice - Culturally Significant Objects Imported for Exhibition Determinations: "Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs" July 23, 2014 Notice is hereby given of the following determinations: Pursuant to the authority vested in me by the Act of October 19, 1965 (79 Stat. 985; 22 U.S.C. 2459), Executive Order 12047 of March 27, 1978, the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of
- Notice - 30-Day Notice of Proposed Information Collection: Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status (J-Non-Immigrant) July 21, 2014 The Department of State has submitted the information collection described below to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval. In accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 we are requesting comments on this collection from all
- Notice - 30-Day Notice of Proposed Information Collection: Medical Examination for Immigrant or Refugee Applicant July 21, 2014 The Department of State has submitted the information collection described below to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval. In accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 we are requesting comments on this collection from all
- The Combatant's Privilege in Asymmetric & Covert Conflicts July 31, 2014 Jens David Ohlin
- Правовые Аспекты Электронной Демократии и Электронного Голосования (Legal Aspects of E-Democracy and E-Voting) July 30, 2014 Научно-практический журнал
- Stating Boundaries: The Law, Disciplined July 30, 2014 Stateless Law: Evolving Boundaries of a Discipline, Helge Dedek & Shauna Van Praagh eds. (Aldershot: Ashgate, Forthcoming)
- Interstate Conflict and Cooperation in Criminal Cases: An American Perspective July 30, 2014 European Criminal Law Review, 2014, Forthcoming
- The Cuban Communist Party at the Center of Political and Economic Reform: Current Status and Future Reform in the Shadow of the Chinese Communist Party July 30, 2014 Larry CatÁ Backer
- Zim Signs Tobacco Control Treaty - AllAfrica.com July 31, 2014 Zim Signs Tobacco Control TreatyAllAfrica.comZimbabwe has acceded to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), a treaty meant to reduce demand for tobacco globally. President Robert Mugabe signed the WHO FCTC
- US accuses Russia of nuke treaty breach... but has it? - RT July 31, 2014 RTUS accuses Russia of nuke treaty breach... but has it?RTThe US accuses Moscow of violating a 1987 INF Treaty banning short- and medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles. Experts ponder if Washington is nudging Moscow to pull out of a treaty to
- Nyet! Russia Rejects US Claim of Treaty Violation - NBCNews.com July 31, 2014 RTNyet! Russia Rejects US Claim of Treaty ViolationNBCNews.comU.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev exchange pens during the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signing ceremony in the White House East Room in
- U.N. accuses Israel of violating international law - Dallas Morning News July 30, 2014 Dallas Morning NewsU.N. accuses Israel of violating international lawDallas Morning NewsGAZA CITY, Gaza Strip United Nations officials accused Israel of violating international law after artillery shells slammed into a school overflowing with
- UN Accuses Israel of Breaking International Law - Valley News July 30, 2014 CNNUN Accuses Israel of Breaking International LawValley NewsGaza CitY, Gaza Strip United Nations officials charged Israel had violated international law after artillery shells slammed into a school overflowing with evacuees on Wednesday, an
- 4/22 Motions Session #2: More on Hollander April 22, 2014 When recess ends, Kammen says he spoke with Al-Nashiri during the break. For some reasonapparently there's an unwritten rule about where the accused may standguards had then became agitated, because Al-Nashiri had moved around a bit. The
- URGENT: 528 Men Sentenced to Death in Mass Trial April 22, 2014 You can help stop this mass, grotesque violation of human rights: sign Amnesty's petition calling on Egyptian authorities to overturn the 528 death sentences.
- 4/22 Motions Session #1: In Which Recusal is Revisited April 22, 2014 It's Al-Nashiri time, y'all. The military judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, calls the hearing to order. The accused is here, along with his lawyers, save two: Capt. Daphne Jackson and Nancy Hollander (whose own role in the case is itself the subject of
- How the Vietnamese Government is Using Its Political Prisoners to Gain Leverage April 22, 2014 The Vietnamese government moves prisoners of conscience in and out of prison, whenever it seems like a favorable move. Its latest release of prisoners may merely be a publicity stunt.
- Al Nashiri Motions Hearing: April 22 Session April 22, 2014 Your correspondent returns to Fort Meade, where Lawfare will take in a closed circuit broadcast, from Guantanamo, of pre-trial litigation in United States v. Al-Nashiri. Throughout the day, we'll have updates on the proceedings in our "Events