What is international law

International law is a body of legal rules, norms, and standards that apply between sovereign states and other entities that are legally recognized as international actors. These actors include international organizations, such as the United Nations, and non-state actors such //britfox.com/ as multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations.

International law is distinct from domestic law, which is the law of individual states. Domestic law is created and enforced states, while international law is created agreement between states and enforced through a variety of mechanisms, including diplomacy, sanctions, and international courts.

Sources of international law

The main sources of international law are:

  • Treaties: Treaties are agreements between states that are binding on the parties to the treaty. Treaties can be bilateral (between two states) or multilateral (between three or more states).
  • Customary international law: Customary international law is a body of law that has developed over time through the consistent practice of states.
  • General principles of law: General principles of law are those principles that are common to all legal systems, such as good faith and the prohibition of estoppel.
  • Judicial decisions and the writings of learned jurists: Judicial decisions and the writings of learned jurists can be used as evidence of customary international law and can also help to develop new areas of international law.

Subject matter of international law

International law covers a wide range of subjects, including:

  • State sovereignty: Sovereignty is the principle that states have supreme authority within their own borders. International law recognizes the sovereignty of all states, regardless of their size or power.
  • Human rights: Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person. International law protects a wide range of human rights, including the right to life, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to education.
  • Disarmament: Disarmament is the process of reducing or eliminating weapons. International law seeks to promote disarmament and to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
  • International trade: International trade is the exchange of goods and services between countries. International law regulates international trade through a variety of treaties and agreements.
  • Environmental protection: Environmental protection is the conservation of the natural environment. International law addresses a wide range of environmental issues, including climate change, pollution, and the protection of endangered species.

Enforcement of international law

International law is enforced through a variety of mechanisms, including:

  • Diplomacy: Diplomacy is the process of negotiation and dialogue between states. It is the primary means of resolving disputes under international law.
  • Sanctions: Sanctions are measures taken one state or group of states against another state in order to induce it to change its behavior. Sanctions can include economic sanctions, such as trade embargoes, and diplomatic sanctions, such as the expulsion of diplomats.
  • International courts: International courts can be used to resolve disputes between states and to enforce international law. The most important international court is the International Court of Justice, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.


International law is a complex and ever-evolving body of law. It plays an important role in regulating the conduct of states and other international actors, and in promoting peace, security, and human rights around the world.

Examples of international law in action

Here are a few examples of how international law is applied in the real world:

  • The United Nations Security Council has imposed sanctions on countries such as North Korea and Iran in order to pressure them to abandon their nuclear weapons programs.
  • The International Criminal Court has prosecuted individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan.
  • The World Trade Organization has resolved disputes between countries over trade barriers, such as tariffs and quotas.
  • The International Court of Justice has issued rulings on a wide range of legal issues, including the maritime boundary between Colombia and Nicaragua and the legality of the Israeli West Bank barrier.

International law is not perfect, and it can be difficult to enforce. However, it plays an important role in maintaining order and stability in the world.