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What is International Law?

International law includes the rights and responsibilities of governments that are accepted as binding in their organized, international relations. It is primarily applicable to countries and not to private citizens. According to experts such as shahram shirkhani, the two traditional branches of international law are the law of nations and the agreements between nations. There are three main disciplines of international law, including public international law, private international law and supranational law.

The History of International Law

As early as the 16th century, Alberico Gentili, Hugo Grotius and Francisco de Vitoria considered the importance of laws between sovereign states. They are considered the fathers of international law even though it was basically formed in the early 19th century. The continental European codified systems and English common law are the sophisticated legal systems that developed and contributed to international law as we know it today. The two World Wars, the League of Nations and the International Labor Organization are also the foundations of public international law.

Public International Law


This area of international law is about treaties between nations and the people who are the subjects on international law. It includes customs, globally accepted standards of behavior and codifications in conventional agreements. The United Nation General Assembly makes recommendations after doing research to help develop this aspect of international law. The following legal fields are included:

  • Laws of sea
  • Treaty law
  • International criminal law
  • Laws of war
  • International humanitarian law
  • Refugee law
  • International human rights law

Private International Law

This area covers conflict between private persons, not states, and is concerned with deciding which jurisdiction should be applied to a private dispute. Today, this increasingly applies to corporations that shift capital and labor across borders and overseas. The questions addressed are:

  • Which jurisdiction applies to an issue
  • Which jurisdiction may hear a case

Supranational Law

This area covers the limitations of the rights of sovereign nations over one another. It concerns regional agreements when the laws of a nation are held inapplicable if they conflict with a supranational legal system if the nation already has a treaty obligation to a supranational collective. The only globally recognized supranational law tribunals are the United Nations Security Council and organizations such as the International Court of Justice.

The Geneva Conventions

The Geneva Conventions are four treaties and three protocols that establish international law for the humanitarian treatment of people during war. The fourth treaty was established after World War II in 1949 and defines the basic rights of civilian and military personnel. These conventions are about the people in war and not about warfare or the weapons of war. These are covered in the Hague Conventions and the Geneva Protocol.

The first Geneva Convention covered the way the victims of armed conflict should be protected. It is mainly for the wounded and sick in the field of battle. From the beginning, in 1864, the Geneva Convention was inextricably linked to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which instigated and enforces the conventions.

International law is a complicated area that deals with the diverse legal systems of different countries that have various laws including common law and statutes. It only works because different countries and states adhere to and abide by it. International law covers all facets of national law to include procedure and remedies, and countries require experts to handle global issues when they arise.

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