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International Law


International law is the body of legal rules that apply
between sovereign states and such other entities as have
been granted international personality (status acknowledged
by the international community). The rules of international
law are of a normative character, that is, they prescribe
towards conduct, and are potentially designed for
authoritative interpretation by an international judicial
authority and by being capable of enforcement by the
application of external sanctions. The International Court
of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United
Nations, which succeeded the Permanent Court of
International Justice after World War II. Article 92 of the
charter of the United Nations states:
The International Court of justice shall be the principal
judicial organ of the United nations.
It shall function in accordance with the annexed Statute,
which is based upon the Statute of
the Permanent court of International Justice and forms an
integral part of the present Charter.
The commands of international law must be those that the
states impose upon themselves, as states must give consent
to the commands that they will follow. It is a direct
expression of raison d'etat, the "interests of the state",
and aims to serve the state, as well as protect the state
by giving its rights and duties. This is done through
treaties and other consensual engagements which are legally
The case-law of the ICJ is an important aspect of the UN's
contribution to the development of international law. It's
judgements and advisory opinions permeates into the
international legal community not only through its
decisions as such but through the wider implications of its
methodology and reasoning.
The successful resolution of the border dispute between
Burkina Faso and Mali in the 1986 Frontier Dispute case
illustrates the utility of judicial decision as a means of
settlement in territorial disputes. The case was submitted
to a Chamber of the ICJ pursuant to a special agreement
concluded by the parties in 1983. In December 1985, while
written submissions were being prepared, hostilities broke
out in the disputed area. A cease-fire was agreed, and the
Chamber directed the continued observance of the
cease-fire, the withdrawal of troops within twenty days,
and the avoidance of actions tending to aggravate the
dispute or prejudice its eventual resolution. Both
Presidents publicly welcomed the judgement and indicated
their intention to comply with it.
In the Fisheries Jurisdiction case (United Kingdom v.
Iceland , 1974) the ICJ contributed to the firm
establishment in law of the idea that mankind needs to
conserve the living resources of the sea and must respect
these resources. The Court observed:
It is one of the advances in maritime international law,
resulting from the intensification of fishing, that the
former laissez-faire treatment ofthe living resources of
the sea in the
high seas has been replaced by a recognition of a duty to
have due regard of the rights of other States and the needs
of conservation for the benefit of all. Consequently, both
parties have the obligation to keep inder review the
fishery resources in the disputed waters and to examine
together, in the light of scientific and other available
the measures required for the conservation and development,
and equitable exploitation, of
these resources, taking into account any international
agreement in force between them,
such as the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention of 24
January 1959, as well as such
other agreements as may be reached in the matter in the
course of further negotiation.
The Court also held that the concept of preferential rights
in fisheries is not static.
This is not to say that the preferential rights of a
coastal State in a special situation are a
static concept, in the sense that the degree of the coastal
State's preference is to be
considered as for ever at some given moment. On the
contrary, the preferential rights are a function of the
exceptional dependence of such a coastal State on the
fisheries in adjacent waters and may, therefore, vary as
the extent of that dependence changes. The Court's
judgement on this case contributes to the development of
the law of the sea by recognizing the concept of the
preferential rights of a coastal state in the fisheries of
the adjacent waters, particularly if that state is in a
special situation with its population dependent on those
fisheries. Moreover, the Court proceeds further to
recognise that the law pertaining to fisheries must accept
the primacy of the requirement of conservation based on
scientific data. The exercise of preferential rights of the
coastal state, as well as the hisoric rights of other
states dependent on the same fishing grounds, have to be
subject to the overriding consideration of proper
conservation of the fishery resources for the benefit of
all concerned.
Some cases in which sanctions are threatened, however, see
no actual implementation. The United States, for example,
did not impose measures on those Latin American states that
nationalized privately owned American property, despite
legislation that authorizes the President to discontinue
aid in the absence of adequate compensation.
Enforcement measures are not the sole means of UN sanction.
Skeptics of the coercive theory of international law note
that forceful sanctions through the United Nations are
limited to situations involving threats to the peace,
breaches of peace, and acts of aggressiion. In all other
instances of noncompliance of international law, the
charter's own general provisions outlawing the threat or
use of force actually prevent forceful sanction. Those same
skeptics regard this as an appropriate paradox in a
decentralized state system of international politics.
Nonetheless, other means of collective sanction through the
UN involve diplomatic intervention and economic sanctions.
In 1967 the Security Council decided to isolate Southern
Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) for its policy of racial separation
following its unilateral declaration of independence from
Britain. As in other cases of economic sanctions,
effectiveness in the Rhodesian situation was limited by the
problems of achieving universal participation, and the
resistance of national elites to external coercion. With
respect to universal participation, even states usually
sympathetic to Britain's policy demonstrated weak
The decentralization of sanctions remains one of the major
weaknesses of international law. Although international
bodies sometimes make decisions in the implementation of
sanctions, member states must implement them. The states
are the importers and exporters in the international
system. They command industrial economies and the passage
of goods across national boundaries.
Furthermore, the UN is wholly dependent on its members on
operating funds, so no matter what decisional authority its
members give it, its ability to take action not only
depends on its decision but also on means. Without the
support, the wealth and the material assistance of national
governments, the UN is incapable of effective sanctions.
The resistance of governments to a financially independent
UN arises principally on their insistence on maintaining
control over sanctioning processes in international
Despite sweeping language regarding "threats to peace,
breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression", the role of
the United Nationsin the enforcement of international law
is quite limited. Indeed the purpose of the UN is not to
enforce international law, but to preserve, restore and
ensure political peace and security. The role of the
Security Council is to enforce that part of international
law that is either created or encompassed by the Charter of
the United Nations. When aggression occurs, the members of
the Council may decide politically - but are not obliged
legally - to undertake collective action that will have
sanctioning result. In instances of threats to or breaches
of the peace short of war, they may decide politically to
take anticipatory action short of force. Moreover, it is
for the members of the Security Council to determine when a
threat to peace, a breach of peace, or an act of aggression
has occured. Even thi determination is made on political
rather than legal criteria. The Security Council may have a
legal basis for acting, but self-interst determines how
each of it members votes, irrespective of how close to
aggression the incident at issue may be. Hence by virtue of
both its constitutional limitations and the exercise of
sovereign prerogatives by its members, the security
council's role as a sanctioning device in international law
is sharply restricted.
As the subject matter of the law becomes more politicized,
states are less willing to enter into formal regulation, or
do so only with loopholes for escape from apparent
constraints. In this area, called the law of community,
governments are generally less willing to sacrifice their
soverein liberties. In a revolutionary international system
where change is rapid and direction unclear, the integrity
of the law of community is weak, and compliance of its
often flaccid norms is correspondingly uncertain.
The law of the political framework resides above these
other two levels and consists of the legal norms governing
the ultimate power relations of states. This is the most
politicized level of international relations; hence
pertinent law is extremely primitive. Those legal norms
that do exist suffer from all the political machinations of
the states who made them. States have taken care to see
that their behaviour is only minimally constrained; the few
legal norms they have created always provide avenues of
escape such as the big-power veto in the UN Security
Despite the many failures and restrictions of international
law, material interdpendence, especially among the states
of equivalent power, may foster the growth of positive
legal principles. In addition, as friendships and emnities
change,, some bilateral law may cease to be observed among
new emnities, but new law may arise among new friends who
have newfound mutual interests. In the meantime, some
multicultural law may have been developed. Finally,
research suggests that the social effects of
industrialization are universal and that they result in
intersocial tolerances that did not exist during periods of
disparate economic capability. On social, political, ane
economic grounds, therefore, international law is intrinsic
to the transformation and modernization of the
international system, even though the "law of the political
context" has remained so far. 


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