Nnamdi Ebo | NewsBlog

In my NewsBlog Nnamdi Ebo, I provide perspectives on news, events and analysis of unique stories, and I also offer original content, articles and photos; with contributions from some of the best minds.

Nnamdi Ebo | NewsBlog

In my NewsBlog Nnamdi Ebo, I provide perspectives on news, events and analysis of unique stories, and I also offer original content, articles and photos; with contributions from some of the best minds.

Nnamdi Ebo | NewsBlog

In my NewsBlog Nnamdi Ebo, I provide perspectives on news, events and analysis of unique stories, and I also offer original content, articles and photos; with contributions from some of the best minds.

Nnamdi Ebo | NewsBlog

In my NewsBlog Nnamdi Ebo, I provide perspectives on news, events and analysis of unique stories, and I also offer original content, articles and photos; with contributions from some of the best minds.

Nnamdi Ebo | NewsBlog

In my NewsBlog Nnamdi Ebo, I provide perspectives on news, events and analysis of unique stories, and I also offer original content, articles and photos; with contributions from some of the best minds.


History of International Law

I. Ancient History

The need for some principles and rules of conduct between independent states arises whenever such states enter into mutual relations. Rules governing the treatment of foreign traders, travelers and ambassadors, as well as the conclusion and observance of treaties, developed early in human history. The oldest-known treaty, preserved in an inscription on a stone monument, is a peace treaty between two Sumerian city states, dating from about 3100 BC. A considerable number of treaties concluded by the empires of the ancient Middle East during the 2nd millennium BC show rudimentary notions of international law. In later antiquity the Jews, Greeks and Romans developed tenets of international law. Jewish law as set forth in the Book of Deuteronomy (in the Bible) contains prescriptions for the mitigation of warfare, notably rules against the killing of women and children. 

The Greek city states created an elaborate treaty system governing a multitude of aspects of relations among themselves. The conduct of the ancient Olympic Games and the protection of religious sanctuaries, such as the Temple of Delphi, were among the subjects of some of these inter-Greek treaties. The Romans made significant contributions to the evolution of international law. They developed the idea of a jus gentium, a body of laws designed to govern the treatment of aliens subject to Roman rule and the relations between Roman citizens and aliens. They were the first people to recognize in principle the duty of a nation to refrain from engaging in warfare without a just cause and to originate the idea of a just war. Beginning with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries saw the growth of the concept of the sovereign “nation-state”, which consisted of a nation controlled by a centralized system of government. Another name for International law is Public international law.

 II. Modern History

International law (18c) is also termed public international law, law of nations, law of nature and nations, jus gentium, jus gentium publicum, jus inter gentes, foreign relations law, interstate law, law between states, transnational law etc. It is the legal system governing the relationships between nations; embracing not only nations but also such participants as international organizations and individuals (such as those who invoke their human rights or commit war crimes).

Created in 1945, the United Nations is responsible for much of

the current framework of international law (see the UN in chapter 6, section1, Page196) International law can also refer to four things: public international law, private international law or conflict of laws and the law of supranational organizations. Given the trend of increasing global economic integration, many regional agreements – especially the Union of South American Nations – are on track to follow the same model. In the EU, sovereign nations have gathered their authority in a system of courts and political institutions. These institutions are allowed the ability to enforce legal norms against or for member states and citizens in a manner which is not possible through public international law.

As the European Court of Justice said in the 1960s, European Union law constitutes “a new legal order of international law” for the mutual social and economic benefit of the member states. Modern international law emerged as a result of the acceptance of the idea of the sovereign state, and was stimulated by the interest in Roman law in the 16th century. Building largely on the work of previous legal writers, especially Spanish precursors, the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius, sometimes called the father of modern international law, published his celebrated treatise De Jure Belli ac Pacis (On the Laws of War and Peace) in 1625. Grotius based his system on the laws of nature and propounded the view that the already-existing customs governing the relation between nations had the force of law and were binding unless contrary to natural justice. His influence on the conduct of international affairs and the settlement of wars was great. His ideas became the cornerstone of the international system as established by the treaty on the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which ended the Thirty Years’ War: a series of conflicts (1618-1648) between Protestants and Catholics that spread in Europe.

Other scholars and statesmen further developed the basic rules of international law, among them the Dutch jurist Cornelis van Bynkershoek and the Swiss diplomat Emmerich de Vattel, whose Le Droit des Gens (1758; Law of Nations) exercised great influence on the framers of the Constitution of the United States. By the end of the second half of the 19th century, literature on the subject had reached vast proportions. The Institute of International Law, a private organization for the study of international law composed of outstanding scholars from various countries, was established in 1873. One of its founders was the American David Dudley Field, who in the same year wrote Outlines of an International Code.

International law stems from three main sources: treaties and international conventions, customs and customary usage, and the generally accepted principles of law and equity. Judicial decisions rendered by international tribunals and domestic courts are important elements of the law-making process of the international community. Nowadays, United Nations (UN) resolutions may also have a great impact on the growth of the so-called customary international law that is synonymous with general principles of international law.

The present system of international law is based on the sovereign state concept. It is within the discretion of each state, therefore, to participate in the negotiation of, or to sign or ratify, any international treaty. Likewise, each member state of an international agency such as the UN is free to ratify any convention adopted by that agency. Treaties and conventions were at first restricted in their effects to those countries that ratified them, and as such were particular, not general. However, regulations and procedures contained in treaties and conventions have often developed into general customary usage, that is, have come to be considered binding even on those states that did not sign and ratify them. Customs and customary usages become part of international law because of continued acceptance by the great majority of nations, even if they are not embodied in a written treaty instrument. Generally, accepted principles of law and justice fall into the same category and are, in fact, often difficult to distinguish from customs.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, international conferences have played an important part in the development of the international system and the law. Noteworthy in that respect was the Congress of Vienna that, through its Final Act of 1815, reorganized Europe after the defeat of Napoleon and also contributed to the body of international law. For example, it established rules for diplomatic procedure and the treatment of diplomatic envoys. On the urging of the United Kingdom, it included a general condemnation of the slave trade. Another important step in the development of international law was the Conference of Paris (1856), which was convened to terminate the Crimean War but at the same time adopted the Declaration of Maritime Law that abolished privateering and letters of marque, modernized the rights of neutrals during maritime war, and required blockades to be effective. 

The Declaration of Paris also initiated the practice of providing for the subsequent accession by nations other than the original signatories. In 1864 a conference convened in Geneva at the invitation of the Swiss Federal Council approved a convention for the protection of wounded soldiers in a land war; many nations subsequently acceded to this convention. The avoidance or mitigation of the rigors of war continued to be the subject of other multilateral treaties. The peace conferences held in 1899 and 1907 in The Hague, the Netherlands, resulted in a number of conventions of that type. The 1899 conference adopted a Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, which created the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Although it was not a veritable court with a fixed bench of judges, it served as an important instrument of arbitration. At the end of World War I the League of Nations was established by the covenant signed in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles. In accordance with provisions in this covenant, the Permanent Court of International Justice was established in 1921. 

The League of Nations was created as a permanent organization of independent states for the purpose of maintaining peace and preventing war. During its existence, 63 countries were members of the League at one time or another. The United States never became a member of the organization, which was powerless to forestall World War II. Equally unsuccessful in preventing hostilities was the Pact of Paris for the Renunciation of War in 1928—the so-called Kellogg-Briand Pact. After the termination of World War II in 1945 the UN Charter created a new organization with elaborate machinery for solving disputes among nations and for the further development of international law.

Normally, every nation is expected to obey international law. Some nations, for example the United Kingdom, have incorporated into their municipal law the provision that international law shall be made part of the law of the land. The US Constitution empowers Congress “to define and punish … Offences against the Law of Nations” (Article I, Section 8). In cases involving international law, American courts tend to interpret American law in conformity with international law; such an attitude has consistently been urged by the US Supreme Court. If each nation were free to declare unilaterally that it is no longer bound by international law, the result would be anarchy. A test was provided in the conduct of Germany under Nazi rule. The Nuremberg tribunals held that German government regulations that ordered, for example, the killing of prisoners of war in contravention of the generally valid rules of warfare, were null and void and that the people responsible for issuing and executing such orders were criminally responsible for violations of international law.

No references & footnotes in this online publication. Checkout references & footnotes in the book.
To be continued next week.


Legal Method . Book Cover 202x300 INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY LAWCulled from: Legal Method  | Author: Nnamdi Ebo  |  Published by LawLords Publications  |  ISBN: 978-978-49827-9-6  | 1st Edition 2012
Buy the book, Legal Method  |  Click  Bookshop
Nnamdi Ebo | [email protected]  |  © 2015 Nnamdi Ebo . All Rights Reserved

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