International Law for beginners and other non-experts

Developing.  This is an outline only, of the first articles or Lessons.

What is International Law?


I.  Lesson One: International Law is INTERNATIONAL

It’s not just what your government or experts in your country say it is.

II.  Lesson Two: International Law is LAW.

Observance or compliance is not optional. You are obligared to comply with International Law, like all Law. That’s what LAW means.

III.  Lesson Three: Sovereignty

International Law obligations are voluntary, agreed-upon limitations on your own sovereignty.

IV.  Lesson Four: Forms of Voluntary Agreement

       A. In Classical International Law: Customary Law

       B. In Contemporary International Law:

             1) Treaties and Conventions

             2) The meaning of “Treaty” in International Law                      

                   a) The 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties

V.  Lesson Five.  Territorial Integrity and Political Independence

           A.  Non-use of Force

                  1)  Article 2 (4) of the U.N. Charter

                  2)  The 1970 General Assembly Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations

                   3)  Brief introduction to a kind of super law:  jus cogens or peremptory law

                          a.  No exception, even by agreement

                          b.  The Prohibition of the Use of force is jus cogens.

                          c.  More on jus cogens in Lesson on Sources of International Law and Rules of Recognition.

                           d.  Practical Applications

                                 1)  Russian invasion of the Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine in 2014.

                                  2)  Chinese take-over of Hong Kong.

                                  3)  Chinese threat to invade Taiwan      

                                  4)  Russian threat to invade Ukraine again, in 2021 

                               e.  Consequences

                                     1)  Non-recognition

                                     2)  Financial consequences

VI.  Lesson Six.  PACTA SUNT SERVANDA:  Treaties are to be observed.

       A.  Customary International Law

       B.   Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties

              1)  Article 26.  Pacta sunt servanda

                    “Every treaty in force is binding between the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith.”


        A.  How can you tell if an asserted right under international law is really a valid rule of international law?

The same problem exists in domestic law.

         B.  The Nature of the International Legal System

               1)  A decentralized system

                     a.  Courts do not play a central role, generally.

                      b.  Nations, historically, have been primary decision-makers.

                      c.  Nations must specifically agree to the jurisdiction of a court.

                       d.  So-called “comprommisory” clauses in treaties and multilateral Conventions

                             1)  These clauses may confer jurisdiction (authority to decide a dispute) on a court to decide cases arising under the treaty.

                               2)  Reservations: A preview

                                     a.  Reservations to a compromissory clause.  

                                          i.  Acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ under Article 36 (2) of its Statute

                                         ii. The Case of Nicaragua v. U.S. illustrates these concepts

                C.  THE RULE OF RECOGNITION:  Article 38(1) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice

                      1)  A generally accepted, long-standing rule in international law

                            a.  The text of Article 38 (1) of the 1919 Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ).

                             b.  The text of Article 38 (1) of the 1945 Statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

                             c.  This is the reference standard for all debates over whether an asserted norm is in fact a norm of international law.

VIII.  Lesson Eight.




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By James Rowles

James Rowles is an author, teacher,, and International lawyer. He received a Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) in International Law from Harvard University, where he has also taught as a Lecturer on Law. See the "About the Author" Page for details.

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