What is International Law?

international law

International law is the set of rules, norms and standards that establishes a common conceptual framework for states across a wide range of domains. These include peace and war, trade and economic relations, human rights, disarmament, international humanitarian law, and the environment.

Historically, international law has primarily focused on agreements and treaties between states that govern their relations during times of peace or war. However, today international law covers the interactions between all forms of human activity, including private actors and non-state international organizations.

The primary sources of international law are conventional treaties, customary law and general principles of international law recognised by most national legal systems. Conventional treaties are often referred to as ‘treaties of nations’ or simply ‘treaties’, while customary law is based on a state’s practice of adhering to a particular custom out of a sense of obligation.

There are also many international agreements that have been negotiated in recent decades on issues such as nuclear proliferation, trade and fishing rights. These agreements are usually regarded as having the authority of international law, though they may not be legally binding in themselves.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is a body of international judges and lawyers that was established to settle disputes between states by applying the rule of law. It has ruled on questions of economic rights, land frontiers, maritime boundaries, territorial sovereignty and the right to asylum.

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