International law is the set of rules generally regarded and accepted as binding in relations between states and nations. It differs from national legal systems in that it only concerns nations rather than private citizens. National law may become international law when treaties delegate national jurisdiction to supranational tribunals such as the European Court of Human Rights or the International Criminal Court. Treaties such as the Geneva Conventions may require national law to conform.
The term "international law" can refer to three distinct legal disciplines:
- Public international law, which governs the relationship between provinces and international entities. It includes these legal fields: treaty law, law of sea, international criminal law and the laws of war or international humanitarian law.
- Private international law, or conflict of laws, which addresses the questions of (1) which jurisdiction may hear a case, and (2) the law concerning which jurisdiction applies to the issues in the case.
- Supranational law or the law of supranational organizations, which concerns regional agreements where the laws of nation states may be held inapplicable when conflicting with a supranational legal system when that nation has a treaty obligation to a supranational collective.
The two traditional branches of the field are:
Sources of international law
All sources of international law are from treaties and covenants which regulate relations between nations. They have been influenced by a range of political and legal theories. During the 20th century, it was recognized by legal positivists that a sovereign state could limit its authority to act by consenting to an agreement according to the principle pacta sunt servanda. This consensual view of international law was reflected in the 1920 Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice, which was succeeded by the United Nations Charter. and is preserved in the United Nations Article 7 of the 1946 Statute of the International Court of Justice.
Public international law
Public international law (or international public law) concerns the treaty relationships between the nations and persons which are considered the subjects of international law. Norms of international law have their source in either:
- custom, or customary international law (consistent provincial practice accompanied by opinio juris),
- globally accepted standards of behaviour (peremptory norms known as jus cogens or ius cogens), or
- codifications contained in conventional agreements, generally termed treaties.
Article 13 of the United Nations Charter obligates the UN General Assembly to initiate studies and make recommendations which encourage the progressive development of international law and its codification. Evidence of consensus or state practice can sometimes be derived from intergovernmental resolutions or academic and expert legal opinions (sometimes collectively termed soft law).
International law has existed since the Middle Ages but much of its modern corpus began developing from the mid-19th century.Two sophisticated legal systems developed in the Western World: the codified systems of continental European states (Civil Law) and the judge-made law of England (Common Law). The fall of the Roman civilization did not result in the loss of the concepts of Roman Law. Starting in the later Middle Ages, unlegislated Roman law (ius commune or lex mercatoria) was applied by merchants in northern Italian city states and north-western European countries as the basis for commercial (and other) relationships. In the 20th century, the two World Wars and the formation of the League of Nations (and other international organizations such as the International Labor Organization) all contributed to accelerate this process and established much of the foundations of modern public international law. After the failure of the Treaty of Versailles and World War II, the League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations, founded under the UN Charter. The UN has also been the locus for the development of new advisory (non-binding) standards, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Other international norms and laws have been established through international agreements, including the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war or armed conflict, as well as by agreements implemented by other international organizations such as the ILO, the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Telecommunication Union, UNESCO, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund. The development and consolidation of such conventions and agreements has proven to be of great importance in the realm of international relations.
Conflict of laws
Conflict of laws, often called "private international law" in civil law jurisdictions, is less international than public international law. It is distinguished from public international law because it governs conflicts between private persons, rather than states (or other international bodies with standing). It concerns the questions of which jurisdiction should be permitted to hear a legal dispute between private parties, and which jurisdiction's law should be applied, therefore raising issues of international law. Today corporations are increasingly capable of shifting capital and labor supply chains across borders, as well as trading with overseas corporations. This increases the number of disputes of an inter-state nature outside a unified legal framework, and raises issues of the enforceability of standard practices. Increasing numbers of businesses use commercial arbitration under the New York Convention 1958.
There are numerous international bodies created by treaties adjudicating on legal issues where they may have jurisdiction. The only one with universal jurisdiction is the United Nations Security Council. Others are: the United Nations International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Court (when national systems have totally failed and the Treaty of Rome is applicable) and the Court of Arbitration for Sport
East Africa Community
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 been completed.
Union of South American Nations
The Union of South American Nations is for the South American continent. It intends to establish a framework akin to the European Union by the end of 2019. It is envisaged to have its own passport and currency, and limit barriers to trade.
Andean Community of Nations
The Andean Community of Nations is the first attempt the countries around the Andes Mountains in South America. It started with the Cartagena Agreement of 26 May 1969, and nowadays consists in four countries: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. It does have a supranational law, called Agreements, which are mandatory for these countries.