What is public international law?

  • Public international law  is the body of rules that is legally binding on States and international organizations in their interactions with other States, international organizations, individuals, and other entities. It covers a  range of activities; such as, diplomatic relations, conduct of war, trade, human rights and sharing of oceanic resources. ✐ Give examples of other areas of international law.
  • Traditionally,  international law regulated interactions between States. For example, it determined how a State treats foreign diplomats who are in its country or how international agreements between States are to be regulated.
  • For example, international law sets out legal obligations, responsibilities, and rights of one State against another. This aspect of international law is based on sovereign equality. In other words, each State is a sovereign and each State is equal to, and independent of, all other States. This means that when international law regulates the relations between States, it applies equally to all States.  ✐ Do you think that all States are equal in their relations with each other and that international law applies equally to all States? What examples would you provide to support your answer? 
  • International law also regulates relations between States and non-State actors; for example, individuals, international organizations, and multinational companies. In the case of individuals, international law gives each individual certain rights. For example, international human rights law gives the individual a right not to be tortured. This means that a government cannot torture someone they deem a terrorist to obtain information. International law also imposes on States certain obligations and responsibilities to protect individuals. For example, when States are at war, one State cannot target and kill civilians of the other State who did not take part in hostilities.
  • It important to remember that international law is not stagnant. It is evolving. International law covers diverse subjects and has multiple fields of application. For example, we find that international law applies, inter alia, to:  initiation of wars (laws relating to use of force); conduct of war (humanitarian law); diplomatic relations (diplomatic law); trade and investment; treatment of people (human rights law); ocean resources (law of the sea); protecting the environment (environmental law),  space law, and to certain crimes (international criminal law).

Reading material


© Ruwanthika Gunaratne and Public International Law at https://ruwanthikagunaratne.wordpress.com, 2008 – present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ruwanthika Gunaratne and Public International Law with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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