What is meant by International Law? Also discuss briefly the sources of International Law.

(1) Introduction

Origin of international law can be traced back thousands of years from ancient treaties like an agreement between rulers of city-states of Lagash and Umma. Although Roman Empire did not develop an international law, yet collapse of Holy Roman Empire into independent cities, principalities, kingdoms and nations paved a way for development of international law. Later on, great writers like Grottius, concept of Law of Nature and theory of positivism have made great contributions to dvelopment of international law.

(2) Definition Of International Law

International law can be defined in respect of traditional and modern points of view:

  • (a) Traditional point of view
  • (b) Modern point of view

(a) Traditional Point Of View

According to traditional point of view, international law is set of those rules, which are generally regarded and accepted as binding in relations between states and between nations.

(b) Modern Point of View

Under modern point of view, international law can be defined in following manner:

  • (b-i) Relations of states with one another
  • (b-ii) International institutions or organizations
  • (b-iii) Individuals & non-state entities

(b-i) Relations Of States With One Another

International law can be defined as those principles and rules, which states observe in their relations with one another.

(b-ii) International Institutions Or Organizations

International law can be defined as those rules of law, which are about working of international institutions or organizations, their relations with one another, and their relations with states and individuals.

(b-iii) Individuals & Non-state Entities

International law can also be defined as those rules of law, which are about individuals and non-state entities so far as rights and duties of individuals and non-state entities are concern of international community.

(4) Sources Of International Law

Sorces of international law can be classified into following two main kinds:

  • (i) Formal sources of international law
  • (ii) Material sources of international law

(i) Formal Sources Of International Law

Formal sources of international law mean those sources from which authority of law is derived. According to an opinion, common consent of states is formal source of international law.

(ii) Material Sources Of International Law

Material sources of international law mean those sources from which subject-matter of law is drawn. Followings are these material sources:

  • (a) Customs
  • (b) Treaties
  • (c) Decisions of judicial or arbitral tribunals
  • (d) Juristic work
  • (e) Decisions or determinations of organs of international institutions
  • (a) Customs

Since time immemorial, states had entered into formal relationships with one another. Over several ages, customs had been developed to conduct such relationships. In this way, customs had made modern international law. Therefore, customs are considered material source of international law.

(b) Treaties

With passage of time, customs have failed to meet urgent demands of international society to regulate relations between states. In fact, international activities have become complex due to industrial and economic, and technological developments, commercial law and communication revolution. In such situation, treaties paly important role not only to solve complicated problems of modern international community, but also to develop international law. Therefore, treaties are considered as material source of international law.

(c) Decisions Of Judicial Or Arbitral Tribunals

Decisions of courts and tribunals are considered subsidiary and indirect source of International Law. Article 38 of Statute of International Court of Justice provides that court can apply judicial decisions as a subsidiary means for determination of rules of law. However, such jurisdiction has been made subject to certain limitations. It reveals that decisions of judicial or arbitral tribunals are not strictly speaking a formal source, but they are regarded as authoritative evidence of state of law in some instances.

(d) Juristic Work

Through juristic work of various scholars of international law, opinions of such scholars are achieved, and such opinions are widely admitted and used. Even such opinions, sometimes, lead to legislation of international law. Therefore, it will be fair to mention that writings of such scholars have greatly influenced development of international law. However, such writings are not mostly accepted as independent source of international law.

(e) Decisions Or Determinations Of Organs Of International Institutions

International institutions can represent intermediate or final steps in evolution of customary rules. A resolution of an institution can have full binding effect. Every institution has power to determine its own jurisdiction. Sometimes, such inherent international institutions are given powers to give binding determinations. In this way, decisions and determinations of organs of international institutions can lead to making of rules of international law.

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