International law consists of rules and principles governing the relations and dealings of nations with each other, as well as the relations between states and individuals, and relations between international organizations.
Public international law concerns itself only with questions of rights between several nations or nations and the citizens or subjects of other nations. In contrast, private international law deals with controversies between private persons. These controversies arise out of situations which have a significant relationship to multiple nations. In recent years the line between public and private international law has became increasingly uncertain. Issues of private international law may also implicate issues of public international law, and many matters of private international law have substantial international significance.
Domains of International Law
International Law includes the basic, classic concepts of law in national legal systems (i.e. statutes, property law, tort law, etc). It also includes substantive law, procedural law, due process, and remedies.The following are major substantive fields of international law:
- International economic law
- International security law
- International criminal law
- International environmental law
- Diplomatic law
- International humanitarian law, A.K.A. law of war.
- International human rights law
Sources of International Law
Customary law and conventional law are primary sources of international law.
Customary international law results when states follow certain practices generally and consistently out of a sense of legal obligation. Recently the customary law was codified in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Conventional international law is derived from International conventions and may take any form that the contracting parties agree upon. These contracting parties, however, may not violate the rules of international law.
Similar to contract law in the United States, international agreements create law for the parties of the agreement. Customary law and laws made by international agreements (such as those passed by the United Nations) have equal authority as international law. Private or public parties may assign higher priority to one of the sources by agreement.
General principles which are common to systems of national law can be a secondary source of international law. There are situations where neither conventional nor customary international law can be applicable. In these cases, a general principle may be invoked as a rule of international law.
Subjects of International Law
Traditionally, individual countries were the main subjects of international law. Increasingly, individuals and non-state international organizations have also become subject to international regulation.
The United States and International Law
The United States typically respects the laws of other nations, unless there is some statute or treaty to the contrary. International law is typically a part of U.S. law only for the application of its principles on questions of international rights and duties. International law, however, does not restrict the United States or any other nation from making laws governing its own territory. A State of the United States is not a “state” under international law, since the Constitution does not vest the 50 states with the capacity to conduct their own foreign relations.
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