International Law

International law is the body of rules that governs relations between sovereign states, whether they are in peace or war. It includes the agreements and norms established between nations, as well as the rights and obligations of individuals within those countries. It is also called public international law, a term that distinguishes it from private international law, which covers the relationships between businesses, non-governmental organizations, and other entities that are not states.

Nations usually subject themselves to the standards of international law by adhering to treaties and recognizing customary laws. International conventions and agreed-upon general principles of law may also constitute international law.

For a treaty to be considered binding, the consent of the parties to it must be expressed by their ratification or acceding to it. A state cannot be compelled to accept the terms of a treaty, but it can be forced to comply with its provisions through economic or military pressure from other states. Unlike domestic or civil law, there is no universal system of enforcement for international law; any attempt to enforce its rulings by force would run afoul of the UN Charter’s clause on the settlement of disputes and its article on the International Court of Justice.

The United Nations offers a wide variety of technical assistance in connection with international law, including research, study, training and dissemination. (See the articles in this section for more information.) The General Assembly’s work in the area of international law grew after World War II with the creation of an International Law Commission, which set out to “undertake the progressive development and codification of international law in fields, in which there is already extensive State practice.”

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