International Law



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International Law, unlike most other areas of law, has no defined area or governing body, but instead refers to the many and varied laws, rules and customs which govern, impact and deal with the legal interactions between different nations, their governments, businesses and organizations, to include their rights and responsibilities in these dealings.

The immense body that makes up international law encompasses a piecemeal collection of international customs; agreements; treaties; accords, charters (i.e. the United Nations Charter); protocols; tribunals; memorandums; legal precedents of the International Court of Justice (aka World Court) and more. Without a unique governing, enforcing entity, international law is a largely voluntary endeavor, wherein the power of enforcement only exists when the parties consent to adhere to and abide by an agreement.

Due to the diverse legal systems and applicable histories of different countries, laws addressing international law include both common law (case law) and civil law (statutes created by governing bodies). Their application covers all the facets of national law, to include substantive law, procedure, and remedies.

There are three main legal principles recognized in much of international law, which are not required, but are based chiefly on courtesy and respect:

- Principle of Comity - in the instance where two nations share common public policy ideas, one of them submits to the laws and judicial decrees of the other.

- Act of State Doctrine - respects that a nation is sovereign in its own territory and its official domestic actions may not be questioned by the judicial bodies of another country. It dissuades courts from deciding cases that would interfere with a country’s foreign policy.

- Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity - deals with actions brought in the court of one nation against another foreign nation and prevents the sovereign state from being tried in court without its consent. In the U.S., this is governed by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) of 1976.

To be determined a sovereign state a nation must run its own government, with its own territory and population.

There are both national laws and international agreements which govern/regulate international business transactions, which include investments, offshore banking, contracts, imports/exports, tariffs, dumping, trade and more.

Although there is no definitive governing body overseeing international law, the United Nations is the most widely recognized and influential international organization and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is its judicial counterpart.

International law may further be broken down as public or private. Public International law covers the rules, laws and customs that govern and monitor the conduct and dealings between nations and/or their citizens. The UN deals largely with public international law. Private International law (Conflict of laws) handles disputes between private citizens of different nations.

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Know Your Rights!

  • Can Foreigners Buy Real Estate in the United States?

    Unlike many countries that only allow land sales to those with citizenship in the country, the United States treats sales of real estate to foreigners almost the same as sales to citizens. The only limitations are usually imposed by homeowners associations, condominium associations, cooperatives, or other forms of community associations.

  • How Does U.S. Law View Offshore Bank Accounts?

    if you are considering keeping your money in a foreign bank account, it may not be as easy as it once was, nor provide as much protection from taxes as you may believe.

  • What is International Law?

    International law is largely a misnomer, given that it primarily refers to a body of treaty agreements and their resulting rules, regulations, and practices, and not the codification of laws passed down by a centralized government or legislative body.

  • When Does the Geneva Convention Apply?

    The Geneva Conventions are rules that have been agreed upon by various member nations and apply usually to times of armed conflict. The Conventions seek to protect people who are not (or are no longer) taking part in hostilities, including the sick and wounded, shipwrecked sailors, prisoners of war, and civilians.

Articles About International Law

  • More U.S. Taxpayers Admit to Secret Swiss Accounts
    Why Swiss Bank Clients Who Can’t Stand the Heat Are Getting Out of the Kitchen.
  • What Laws Affect Mail Order Brides?
    As the Internet makes the world a smaller and smaller place, unusual new ways of meeting people have become increasingly popular. While personal ads placed in the newspaper used to be a somewhat embarrassing way of meeting someone, the explosion of the Internet made online dating sites almost the norm for arranging romantic encounters. Similarly, the Internet has also opened the doors to international romance in the form of “mail order bride” services. But what laws affect mail order brides?
  • Are There Laws Against Spying in the United States?
    Movies and television shows often glamorize the world of espionage. But, in reality, is it quite so exciting? Aside from the lack of martinis and frequent shoot outs to save the world, the reality is that espionage is a crime in the United States.
  • Are There Laws in the U.S. Against Importing Goods Made by Child Labor or Slaves?
    Ever stopped and wondered where your various household goods came from? Not just the country of origin, but who actually worked to produce it? Most products, even those from other countries, are produced by adults, and though their standard of living may be different than that of their counterparts in America, they are working of their own free will. However, some products and services, even today, are still being produced by children and forced labor.
  • What is Sharia Law and How Does it Apply in America
    Sharia law is the Islamic system of moral codes that govern all aspects of Muslim life. Since 9/11, a wave of anti-Sharia legislation has swept across America. But what is Sharia law, and is it really something that Americans should be concerned about? Is anti-Sharia law actually more dangerous to American freedoms than the moral code it seeks to prohibit?
  • How Does U.S. Law View Offshore Bank Accounts?
    Perhaps you are one of the fortunate few who has achieved a level of wealth where you are legitimately concerned that the ebb and flow of the U.S. economy could have a dramatic effect on your personal finances. Or, perhaps, you have heard that there are ways to avoid certain taxes if you keep your money offshore.
  • What Do I Have To Declare At Customs When Entering the United States?
    When traveling abroad, one set of laws tend to concern and confuse people more than others: customs laws. When entering the United States, certain items must be “declared” (i.e., one must alert customs officials that they are in the that person's possession). This could lead to the requirement to pay a small “duty” fee to bring the item into the country, or it may be seized and you may not be allowed to bring it into the country at all.
  • Can Foreigners Buy Real Estate in the United States?
    As the real estate market in the U.S. has made a strong indication of recovery, some outside of the United States have begun to look again at American real estate investments as a possibility. This leads some to wonder, though, whether it is even possible for a foreigner to buy real estate in the U.S.? If so, are there any special laws to be aware of or taxes that must be paid?
  • When Does the Geneva Convention Apply?
    Often an argument raised by inmates or others who feel they have been wronged but are not sure what rights to call upon, the Geneva Conventions are frequently misidentified as the source of a variety of “rights” one does not have. The Geneva Conventions are actually a series of agreements, not a single document, and among the most misapplied by legal novices. So when do the Geneva Conventions really apply?
  • What is International Law?
    Many have asked the question “what is international law?” It is an understandable question given the way that it is thrown around as though it is an easily identifiable thing. However, “international law” is largely a misnomer, given that it primarily refers to a body of treaty agreements and their resulting rules, regulations, and practices, and not the codification of laws passed down by a centralized government or legislative body.
  • All International Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to International Law including: customs law, european community law, import and export, international investments, international trade, islamic law, offshore services.

International Law - US

  • ABA - International Law Section

    ABA International is the ABA in a smaller, but internationally focused version, working closely together with the other divisions and sections of the ABA, yet offering the full package in one place. As a result of our geographical diversity and its importance to us, our membership recruitment efforts are increasingly aimed outside the borders of the US.

  • Audiovisual Library of International Law

    The United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law is a unique, multimedia resource which provides the United Nations with the unprecedented capacity to provide high quality international law training and research materials to an unlimited number of recipients on a global level.

  • International Court of Justice

    The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946. The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). Of the six principal organs of the United Nations, it is the only one not located in New York (United States of America). The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.

  • International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts

    The United Nations has established special international criminal tribunals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia to prosecute those responsible for atrocities during times of war and genocide. Successful convictions of these political and military leaders are meant to bring justice to victims and to deter others from committing such crimes in the future.

  • International Humanitarian Law

    International humanitarian law is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare. International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.

  • International Organization Immunities Act

    To vitalize the status of international organization of which United States is a member and facilitate their activities Congress has enacted the International Organization Immunities Act, which among other provisions defines the capacity of such organizations.

  • US, UN and International Law

    By Global Policy Forum. This section posts articles on US policy towards the UN, international law and treaties. The section includes special coverage of the torture, prison abuse, rendition and indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and other US-run prisons around the world.

International Treaties

  • Brussels Convention and Lugano Convention

    The Brussels Convention and the Lugano Convention aim to "determine the international jurisdiction of their courts, to facilitate recognition and to introduce an expeditious procedure for securing the enforcement of judgments, authentic instruments and court settlements."

  • GATT 1994

    The Final Act Embodying the Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations”, signed by ministers in Marrakesh on 15 April 1994 is 550 pages long and contains legal texts which spell out the results of the negotiations since the Round was launched in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in September 1986. In addition to the texts of the agreements, the Final Act also contains texts of Ministerial Decisions and Declarations which further clarify certain provisions of some of the agreements.

  • Guide to Research on Vienna Convention on Consular Relations Notification Requirements

    Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which 170 nations are party, requires a nation arresting or detaining a foreign national to afford the detainee access to his or her consulate and to notify the foreign national of the right of consular access. In the number of U.S. cases involving foreign nationals, defendants have raised the issue of failure by the detaining authorities to make the necessary notifications.

  • Hague Conference on Private International Law

    Since 1893, the Hague Conference on Private International Law, a melting pot of different legal traditions, has developed and serviced Conventions which respond to global needs in the following areas: International Protection of Children, International Family and Family Property Relations, International Legal Co-operation and Litigation and International Commercial and Finance Law.

  • Inter-American Specialized Conferences on Private International Law

    Under the auspices of the Organization of American States, Inter-American Specialized Conferences on Private International Law (known by the Spanish Acronym as CIDIPs) play a central role in the harmonization and codification of Private International Law in the Western Hemisphere. Six Conferences have been held in various cities in the Americas.

  • Multilaterals Project

    The Multilaterals Project, begun in 1992, is an ongoing project at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts to make available the texts of international multilateral conventions and other instruments. Although the project was initiated to improve public access to environmental agreements, the collection today also includes treaties in the fields of human rights, commerce and trade, laws of war and arms control, and other areas. Most of the texts date from 1945 or later, but the collection also includes historical texts, from the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia to the Covenant of the League of Nations.

  • NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

    The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an alliance of 26 countries from North America and Europe committed to fulfilling the goals of the North America Treaty signed 4 April 1949.

  • Researching Customary International Law, State Practice and the Pronouncements of States regarding International Law

    This research guide is intended to be an introduction to the concept of international custom and its place as a source of international law. The primary focus is on researching state practice and the pronouncements of states regarding international law as evidence of custom.

  • Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties

    Signed at Vienna, 23 May 1969. Entry into force: 27 January 1980. It applies to treaties between States.

Organizations for International Law

  • Inter-American Development Bank

    The IDB provides solutions to development challenges in 26 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, partnering with governments, companies and civil society organizations.

  • International Bar Association

    The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, has a membership of 30,000 lawyers and 195 bar associations and law societies. The IBA has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community.

  • International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)

    ICC (International Chamber of Commerce) is the voice of world business championing the global economy as a force for economic growth, job creation and prosperity. Because national economies are now so closely interwoven, government decisions have far stronger international reper-cussions than in the past.

  • International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (Unidroit)

    The International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (Unidroit) is an independent intergovernmental Organisation with its seat in the Villa Aldobrandini in Rome. Its purpose is to study needs and methods for modernising, harmonising and co-ordinating private and in particular commercial law as between States and groups of States.

  • International Law Institute

    For fifty years the International Law Institute has worked to address the challenges faced by the international community by promoting economic development and rule of law.

  • International Monetary Fund (IMF)

    The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an organization of 185 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.

  • US Obligations Under International Law

    Nations are bound by treaties they choose to sign and fundamental principles that fall under the category of customary international law. There is no single world body that passes laws that are bind all the nations of the world. Thus, application of international law to the United States is not as clear cut as the application of domestic U.S. law.

  • World Bank

    The World Bank is a vital source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. We are not a bank in the common sense. We are made up of two unique development institutions owned by 185 member countries—the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA).

Publications for International Law

  • American University International Law Review

    The American University International Law Review publishes articles, critical essays, comments, and casenotes on a wide variety of international law topics, including public and private international law, the law of international organizations, international trade law, international arbitration, and international human rights. AUILR also publishes pieces on topics of foreign and comparative law that are of particular interest to the international legal community.

  • Chicago Journal of International Law

    The University of Chicago Law School's Chicago Journal of International Law is an interdisciplinary forum for discussion and analysis of international law and policy issues. CJIL is committed to presenting timely and concise scholarly work. CJIL is published twice yearly.

  • Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law

    Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law is published each spring and fall. DJCIL is a very influential, specialized journal devoted exclusively to the issues of comparative and international law.

  • European Journal of International Law

    The European Journal of International Law is firmly established as one of the world's leading journals in its field. With its distinctive combination of theoretical and practical approaches to the issues of international law, the journal offers readers a unique opportunity to stay in touch with the latest developments in this rapidly evolving area.

  • Foreign and International Law - Library of Congress

    Researching foreign, international, and comparative law can be an intimidating proposition. There is such a vast amount of material available. In order to help provide a starting point for researching foreign, international, and comparative law, the Law Library of Congress has prepared a guide to reference sources, compilations, citations guides, periodicals (indexes and databases), dictionaries, web resources, free public web sites, subscription-based services, subject-specific web sites, and country overviews.

  • Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies

    The Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies is a faculty-edited interdisciplinary journal focusing on the intersections of global and domestic legal regimes, markets, politics, technologies, and cultures. Students are also integrally involved in the production of the Journal.

  • Penn State International Law Review

    Established in 1982, the Penn State International Law Review is celebrating twenty-five years of excellence during 2006 — 2007. Originally, the Dickinson Journal of International Law, the ILR was Pennsylvania's first internationally focused student-edited law journal. Today, the Penn State International Law Review serves as an integral component for Penn State Law’s highly respected international legal program. As one of the most respected and cited International legal periodicals in the world, the ILR publishes articles on public and private international law written by leading government (domestic and foreign) officials, legal scholars, private practitioners, and law students.

  • Stanford Journal of International Law

    Founded in 1966, the Stanford Journal of International Law is one of the oldest and most reputed international law journals in the United States. Publishing two regular issues each year, the journal seeks to promote scholarship of the highest quality through timely, innovative, and important pieces on international and comparative legal topics. The journal invites contributions from professors, practitioners, legislators, judges, and Stanford Law School students.

  • Touro International Law Review

    The Touro International Law Review is a student-run and faculty-and-alumni-advised publication. Originally founded in 1989 as a print publication, it is now available solely online in order to meet its new mission to provide a forum for timely and engaging discourse in important international law issues.