THE NATURE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW

 

 

public international law is that body of law which is composed of the principles and rules of conduct which states feel bound to and do observe in their relations to each other. It also includes rules of law relating to the function of international institutions or organizing their relations with each other and the states and to the individuals as well as certain rules of law relating to individuals and non-state entities in so far as the rights and duties of such individuals and non-state entities are the concern of the international communities.

This definition covers different developments which have qualified traditional conception of International Law as purely a system of rules and principles that are applicable to interstate relations on the basis of either state practice or international multi-lateral treaties. –  lately they have emerged numerous regional institutions and organizations endowed with international legal personality and are capable of entering into relations with each other and with states.

Such regional institutions and organizations are governed by regional international law rules as opposed to general rules which are of universal application.

Further, there has been a general international movement to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals, the creation of new rules for punishment of persons who have committed international crimes, environmental management and use of the sea, super adjacent airstrips and the outer space.

Private international law/conflict of laws has little to do with Public International Law. Conflict of laws is that part of the private law of a country which deals with cases having a foreign element, that is to say, contact with some system of law other than that of the forum state.

Such a contract may exist for instance because a contract was made or has been performed in a foreign country or because a tort was committed there or because some property was situated there, the parties to a particular case or contract are non-nationals of the forum state e.g. divorce cases

Conflict of law is a necessary part of the domestic law of each country because different countries have different legal systems containing different rules while Public International Law seeks primarily to regulate relations between sovereign states amongst inter se (themselves) as well as other international law persons.

in other words, Public International Law is at least in theory the same everywhere while rules of conflict of laws are different from one country to another.

Historical Developments of Public International law

Contemporary system of Public International Law is normally traced back in terms of its order and structure to The Peace of Westphalia 1648 which marked the end of the 30yrs war in Europe. However, it was not then that International relations started. This was because evidence was produced of beliefs of rules and procedure regarding international law dates back over 5000 years.

From the earliest times, rules of conduct to regulate relations between independent communities in their usual were not felt necessary and emerged from usages observed by these communities in their usual relationship.

Treaties, immunities of diplomatic envoys and certain laws and usages of war existed in the Middle Ages before the dawn of Christianity e.g. in Egypt and India. Around 2100BC, a solemn treaty was signed between the rulers of Lagash and Umma, the city-states situated in the area known to historians as Mesopotamia. It was inscribed on a stone block and concerned the establishment of a defined boundary to be respected by both sides under pain of alienating a number of Sumerian gods. The next major instance was in 1400BC where the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II concluded a Treaty of Peace Alliance and Extradition with the King of Cheta which recognized territorial sovereignty over certain areas of each ruler and provided for the extradition of refugees and the exchange of diplomatic envoys.

The role of ancient Israel must also be noted. A universal ethical stance coupled with rules relating to warfare was handed down to other peoples and religions and the demand for justice and a fair system of law founded upon strict morality permeated the thought and conduct of subsequent generations.

For example, the Prophet Isaiah declared that sworn agreements, even where made with the enemy, must be performed. Peace and social justice were the keys to man’s existence, not power.

There were also historical cases of recourse to international arbitration and mediation on registration in ancient Greece, China and the early Islamic world.

However, the predominant approach of ancient civilizations was geographically and culturally restricted. There was no conception of an international community of states co-existing within a defined framework. The scope for any ‘international law’ of states was extremely limited and all that one can point to is the existence of certain ideals, such as the sanctity of treaties, which have continued to this day as important elements in society. But the notion of a universal community with its ideal of world order was not in evidence.

In the period of the Greece city states there developed some international law though regionally limited composed of customary rules which had crystallized into law from long standing usages followed/observed by these states not only among themselves, but also as between them and the neighboring states. Underlying the rules were deep religious influences characteristic of an era in which the distinctions between law, morality, justice and religion were not sharply drawn.

No sense of a world community can be traced to Greek ideology in spite of the growth of Greek colonies throughout the Mediterranean area. This was left to the able administrators of the Roman Empire.

Roman civilization before its expansion and conquest witnessed the making of treaties which Latin cities under which Latin and Romans were given rights in each other’s court and premised mutual cooperation.

The Romans had a profound respect for organization and the law. The law knitted together their empire and constituted a vital source of reference for every inhabitant of the far flung domain.

Once Rome became an empire, the Romans organized their relations with foreigners on the basis of Jus Fetiale and Jus Gentium.

The Jus Fetiale consisted of religious rules which governed Romans external relations and formal declarations of war which inter alia recognized the inviolability of Ambassadors and was at the origin of the distinction between just and unjust war.

On the other hand, Jus Gentium was a Roman solution to the necessity of regulating legal relations between roman citizens and foreigners as Rome expanded. Jus Gentium simplified rules to govern the relations between foreigners, and between foreigners and citizens.

A special magistrate Praetor Peregrinus was appointed in 242 BC (whose function it was to oversee all legal relationships, including bureaucratic and commercial matters, within the empire) and created law called Jus Gentium acceptable to both roman citizens and foreigners. This law was the 1st truly international law although it essentially regulated relations between private individuals. It was based on the commercial law in use in the Mediterranean trade the Jus Civile which was applicable to relations between roman citizens and was less formalistic and based on the principles  of equity and good faith. The distinction between Jus Civile and Jus Gentium was erased when Roman citizenship was granted to all male inhabitants of the empire in 212 A.D. However, Jus Gentium did not disappear but became an essential part of Roman law and greatly influenced all European Legal Systems and through them Public International Law.

From Ancient Rome, international law also inherited the Doctrine of the Universal law of Nature known as natural law which was developed by the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and adopted by the Romans. This doctrine considered law as the product of right reason emanating from assumptions about the nature of man and society. Because natural law is the expression of right reason inherent in nature and man and discoverable by reason, it applies universally and it is unchanging and everlasting.

Reference must also be made to the growth of Islam. Its approach to International relations and law was predicated upon a state of hostility towards the non-Muslim world and the concept of unity, Dar al-Islam, as between Muslim countries. Generally speaking, humane rules of warfare were developed and the ‘peoples of the book’ (Jews and Christians) were treated better than non-believers, although in an inferior position to Muslims. Once the period of conquest was over and power was consolidated, norms governing conduct with non-muslim states began to develop. The law dealing with diplomats was founded upon notions of hospitality and safety (aman), while rules governing International agreements grew out of the concept of respecting promises made.

The Middle Ages were characterized by the authority of the organized Church and the comprehensive structure of power that it commanded. All Europe was of one religion, and the ecclesiastical law applied to all, notwithstanding tribal or regional affiliations. For much of the period, there were struggles between the religious authorities and the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire.

These conflicts were eventually resolved in favour of the Papacy, but the victory over secularism proved of relatively short duration. Religion and a common legacy derived from the Roman Empire were strongly unifying influences, while political and regional rivalries were not. But before a recognized system of international law could be created, social changes were essential.

Of particular importance during this era was the authority of the Holy Roman Empire and the supranational character of canon law.

In the middle ages, two sets of international law namely Lex Mercatoria (Law Merchant) and the Maritime Customary Law developed to deal with problems that transcended international boundaries. With the revival of trade in the 10th century, merchants started to travel all throughout Europe in order to sell, buy and place orders for various goods. These commercial activities required the establishment of a common legal framework.

Out of necessity, the European merchants created their own rules of conduct on fair dealing which formed Lex Mercatoria. During the same time, maritime customs and usages were formed. The High seas were no man’s land but with the development of Maritime Commerce it became necessary to establish some rules and standards. The rules of the high seas were based on the Rhodian Sea Law, a codification undertaken under the Byzantine Empire were compiled into widely recognized collections that became accepted all through Europe. The middle ages also saw the rise of nation states that led in turn to the process of the formation of rules of customary international law from usages and practices followed by such states in their mutual relations.

For instance, there were the microscopic Italian states that maintained diplomatic relations with each other and with the outside world that led to the development of certain rules relating to diplomatic envoys and their inviolability.

Such commercial and maritime codes while at this stage merely expressions of national legal systems were amongst the forerunners of international law because they were created and nurtured upon a backcloth of cross national contacts and reflected the need for rules that would cover international situations.

Such rules, growing out of the early Middle Ages, constituted the seeds of international law, but before they could flourish, European thought had first to be developed by that intellectual explosion known as the Renaissance.

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