International law is the set of rules, norms and standards that states generally agree to follow. It covers many aspects of state relations, including war and diplomacy.
Most people don’t encounter international law every day, but lawyers often have to deal with it in their work. This is particularly true of lawyers who work for multinational corporations and those who are assisting victims of human rights violations.
Originally, the field of international law focused on treaties and agreements between states that governed their conduct during times of peace or war. But this is increasingly a broader area that encompasses all forms of interaction between private actors, governments and non-state entities such as corporations.
It also includes the law of the sea, trade, fishing rights, climate change, outer space and the treatment of diplomats.
A few key organizations in the field of international law include the International Court of Justice, the UN Security Council and Interpol.
In general, international law is derived from three sources: treaties, customs and principles of international law.
Treaties are written agreements that states enter into voluntarily. Interpreting these agreements depends on the words of the treaty and their context.
Customs are practices that a state follows out of a sense of legal obligation. Conventional international law is a synthesis of the various kinds of international treaties.
As more and more companies and governments engage in global commerce, lawyers must now deal with international issues that previously may have been beyond their reach.