International law – What it is, definition and concept | 2021

International law is the branch of law that deals with defining and regulating relations between States. Thus, it is also in charge of managing the use of common goods worldwide, such as the environment or international waters.

International law has as its main objective that relations between States be harmonious, peaceful and collaborative.

It is made up of a set of legal norms, treaties and conventions. These regulate the way in which States and other international agents must behave.

Elements of international law

The main elements are:

  • International treaties, whether in the form of pacts, agreements, declarations, notes, etc.
  • International conventions.
  • International custom that is accepted as widespread practice.
  • General principles of law recognized by the States.
  • Court decisions and doctrines (which would help determine the application of the rules).

Issues dealt with in international law

Among the topics it addresses are:

  • Human rights.
  • Nuclear disarmament and other types of weapons.
  • International crime.
  • Refugees.
  • Migrations
  • Nationality problems.
  • I treat the prisoners.
  • Use of force.
  • Conduct during periods of war.
  • Use and protection of international Commons such as the environment, international waters, outer space, world communications and international trade.

Origin and evolution of International Law

The origin of International Law goes hand in hand with the emergence of States.

Among the oldest sources of International Law we can find a treaty between Mesopotamia and Umma around the year 3100 BC. This treaty regulated the borders and their inviolability. But this is not the only example.

In ancient times we can find several international treaties between two or more States that usually focused on border issues, peace agreements and treatment of foreigners. However, at that time there was no orderly legal system of these treaties or conventions.

Background to the modern international law system

One of the antecedents of the modern International Law system was the Westphalia Treaty of 1648, signed by most of the European powers in the war of the 1930s. This treaty established some of the fundamental pillars of the current legal framework.

It is also worth mentioning other relevant treaties such as the Paris Declaration of 1853 on the war at sea; the Geneva Convention of 1864 on the treatment of soldiers wounded in times of war and the Hague declarations of 1899 and 1907 to ensure the resolution of conflicts through peaceful means.

The first and second world wars imposed a terrible pause in the development of International Law. At the beginning of 1945 and after the end of the war, the States returned to the task of creating a legal framework that would help preserve peace, security and promote international cooperation.

The United Nations undertook the work of codifying, organizing and developing a system that could maintain respect for the obligations emanating from international treaties. Among the UN bodies that have been created to enforce the international legal order are: the International Court of Justice, the Security Council and the General Assembly.

There are also International Tribunals and other courts assisted by the UN.

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