• Brain Booster Articles


Updated: Oct 23

Author: Sameer Afzal Ansari, IV year of B.A.,LL.B. from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.


International tLaw tis tcomprehensive tin tnature tand tdue tto tthat tit tis tan amalgamation tof tvarious tsources, tthere texists tno tsingle tsystem tof tlaws which tcan tinterpret tand textend tthe tlaw tbut tinternational tlaw tstill texists and tis tascertainable.

There tare t‘sources’ tavailable tfrom twhich tthe trules tof tinternational tlaw may tbe textracted tand tanalyzed. tAccording tto tLawrence, tif twe ttake tthe source tof tlaw twhich thas tall tthe tauthority trequired tto tgive tit tbinding force, tthen tin trespect tof tInternational tLaw tthere tis tone tsource tof tlaw and tthat tis tthe tconsent tof tNations. tThis tconsent tmay tbe teither ttacit (custom) tor texpress t(treaties).

Major tsources twhich tform tthe tconventional tsource tof tInternational tlaw includes tthe tInternational tConvention tand tTreaties. tSources tof International tLaw tcan tbe tbifurcated tinto tprimary tand tsecondary tsources which tare texplained tbelow.

Primary sources

Primary tSources tof tInternational tLaw tare tconsidered tformal tin tnature. They tcome tfrom tofficial tbodies twhich tinclude tTreaties, tCustoms tand principle tof tLaw. tArticle t38(1)(a-c) tof tthe tICJ tstatute tis twidely trecognized as tthe tbackbone tof tthe tformal tsource tof tInternational tLaw. tIt tis generally tregarded tas tan tauthoritative tstatement tof tthe tsources tof international tlaw. tArticle t38 tof tthe tStatute tof tthe tInternational tCourt tof Justice tin tThe tHague thas tbeen ttreated tas ta tconvenient tcatalogue tof international tlegal tsources.

Article 38 of the ICJ statute

Article t38(1)(a-c) tof tthe tICJ twas tadopted tby tthe tsame tprovision tof tthe statute tof tthe tPermanent tCourt tof tInternational tJustice twhich toperated under tthe tauspices/support tof tLegal tof tNations tin t1920. tThe tarticle refers to tthe tprimary tsources tof tinternational tlaw twhich tare tenumerated tbelow:

Custom as a source of International Law

The toriginal tand tthe toldest tsources tLaw tis tknown tas tCustom. tThe trules of tcustomary tInternational tLaw tinvolved ta tlong thistorical tprocess twhich gained trecognition tby tthe tentire tcommunity. tThe tpresence tof tcustomary rules tcan tbe tdeduced tfrom tstate tpractice tand tbehaviour tbecause tit tis not a twritten tsource tof tlaw. tA trule tof tcustomary tlaw tis tsaid tto thave ttwo elements:

First, tthere tmust tbe twidespread tand tconsistent tState tpractice.

Secondly, tthere thas tto tbe t“opinio tJuris”, ta tLatin tterm twhich tmeans ta legal tobligation tto tbelieve tin tthe texistence tof tsuch tlaw.

Features of Customary Law

Uniform and general

State tpractice tto tgive trise tto tbinding trules tof tcustomary tInternational Law, tthat tpractice tmust tbe tuniform, tconsistent tand tgeneral tand tmust tbe coupled twith ta tbelief tthat tthe tpractice tis tobligatory trather tthan thabitual. In tthe tAsylum tCase, tthe tcourt tdeclared tthat ta tcustomary trule tmust tbe used tconstantly tand tuniformly tthroughout thistory twhich tcan tbe ttraced through tstate tpractice.


Continuous tand tregular tuse tof tparticular tconduct tis tconsidered tas ta trule of tcustomary tlaw. tIn tthe tNorth tSea tContinental tShelf tcases, tthe tICJ stated tthat tthere tis tno tprecise tlength tof ttime tduring twhich tthe tpractice must texist. tIt tis tsimply tthat tit tmust tbe tfollowed tlong tenough tto tshow that tother trequirements tof tcustom tare tsatisfactory.

An opinion of Law

To tassume tthe tstatus tof tcustomary tinternational tlaw tthe trule tin tquestion must tbe tregarded tby tthe tstate tas tbinding tin tLaw ti.e. tthe tstates tmust regard tthemselves tas tbeing tunder ta tlegal tobligation tto tfollow tthe practice. tIn tthe tLotus tcase, opinio tJuris twas tseen tas tan tessential telement of tcustomary tinternational tlaw tand tthis twas taffirmed tin tNorth tSea Continental tShelf tCases tas twell.

Convention as a source of International Law

Treaties tand tconventions tare tone tof tthe tmost timportant tsources tof International tLaw. tThese tconventions tcan tbe tmultilateral tor tbilateral. Multilateral tconventions trelate tto tthe ttreaties twhich tformulate tthe universal tor tgeneral tapplication tof tthe tlaw. tOn tthe tother thand, tbilateral conventions tare tthose twhich tis tformed texclusively tby ttwo tstates tto tdeal with ta tparticular tmatter tconcerning tthese tstates.

Vienna tConvention ton tthe tLaw tof tTreaty t1969, tthe tcodified tlaw tfor contracting ttreaties, tgives tthe tdefinition, t“A ttreaty tis tan tagreement whereby ttwo tor tmore tstates testablish tor tseek tto testablish ta trelationship between tthem tgoverned tby tinternational tlaw.” tTreaties tact tas ta tdirect source tof trights tand tobligations tfor tthe tstates, tthey tcodify tthe texisting customary tsource tof tlaw.

They tare tvoluntary tand tcannot tbind tnon-signatory tto tit, thowever, tthere are tcertain texceptions tto tit tthat tis tif tany trule tforms tpart tof tthe tJus Cogens tnorm tas tthey tare tpart tof tthe taccepted tprinciples tof tInternational law tand tevery tstate thas ta tperemptory tduty tof tnot tbreaching tthem tdue to ttheir terga tomnes tobligations. t(owed tto tthe twhole tworld)

General Principle of International Law

Most tmodern tjurists taccept tgeneral tprinciples tof tlaw tas tcommon tto tall national tlegal tsystems, tin tso tfar tas tthey tare tapplicable tto tthe trelations of States. tThere tare tfewer tdecided tcases tin tinternational tlaw tthan tin ta municipal tsystem tand tno tmethod tof tlegislating tto tprovide trules tto govern tnew tsituations. tIt tis tfor tsuch ta treason tthat tthe tprovision tof t‘the general tprinciples tof tlaw trecognized tby tcivilized tnations’ tand twas inserted into tarticle t38 tas ta tsource tof tlaw.

Some tof tthe texamples tof tGeneral tprinciples tinclude:

  • The trule tof tres tjudicata twhich thas tbeen taffirmed tby tthe tcourt tin tthe tcase tof tGenocide tConvention tBosnia tand tHerzegovina tv. tSerbia tand tMontenegro,

  • The trules tof tpacta tsunt tservanda tmade tapplicable,

  • Reparation tmust tbe tmade tfor tdamage tcaused tby tthe tfault, t

  • The tright tof tself-defence tfor tthe tindividual tagainst tattack ton this tperson, tfamily, tor tcommunity tagainst ta tclear tand tpresent tdanger,

  • For tone’s town tcause tno tone tcan tbe ta tjudge tand tthat tthe tjudge tmust thear tboth tsides.

Secondary source (Evidence of International law)

Article t38(1)(d) tforms tpart tof tthe tmaterial tsource tof tInternational tLaw also known tas tthe tsecondary tsource. tIt tstates tthat tjudicial tdecisions tand the tteachings tof tthe tmost thighly tqualified tpublicists tof tthe tvarious nations talso thelp tin tguiding tthe tformation tof tinternational tlaw, thowever they tare tnot tbinding tbut tmerely tadvisory tin tnature. t

Judicial Decision

Under tthis, tthe tcourt tis tauthorised tto tapply tprevious tdecisions tof tthe court twhich tare talso tknown tas tan tevidence tof tinternational tlaw, however, it tis tsubject tto tthe texception tstated tunder tArticle t59 tof tthe tstatute which states tthat tthe tprevious tdecision tof tthe tcourt tcan tonly tguide tthe tcourt, it is tnot tbinding ton tthe tcourt.

This tarticle tprovides tthe tcourt twith ta trule tthat tit tis tnot tto tbe tbounded by tprecedents tbut trecourse tcan tstill tbe tmade tby tthe tcourt tto tits tpast decision’s tres tjudicata tand tadvisory topinion tto tsubstantiate tcurrent tcase as authoritative tevidence tof tlegal tposition.

ICJ tplays ta tmajor trole tin tthe tlaw-making tprocess tthrough tits tadvisory opinions, tcase tlaws tand tjudge’s trule. tOne tof tthe tmajor texamples tof tthis includes tthe tprinciple tof tthe tprohibition tagainst tthe tuse tor tthreat tof tuse of tforce tlaid tdown tby tthe tcourt tin tthe tcase tof tNicaragua tvs. tUSA twhich is tnow tconsidered tas ta tpart tof tCustomary tInternational tLaw. t

The tjudicial tdecision tof tthe tcourt talso tencompasses tinternational tarbitral awards tand tthe trulings tof tnational tcourts. tOne tleading texample tis Alabama tClaims tarbitration, twhich tmarked tthe topening tof ta tnew tera tin the tpeaceful tsettlement tof tinternational tdisputes, tin twhich tincreasing tuse was tmade tof tjudicial tand tarbitration tmethods tin tresolving tconflict.

Another tillustration tof tthe timpact tof tarbitral tawards tis tthe tIsland tof Palmas tcase twherein tit thas tbeen treferred tthat ta tunanimous, tor tnearly unanimous, tdecision tplays tan timportant trole tin tthe tprogressive development tof tthe tlaw. tIt thelps tin tproviding ta tsingle tview tfor interpretation tof tthe tissue tat thand twhich thelps tin tavoiding tcontroversy during tthe tdevelopment tof tInternational tLaw

Juristic writings and teachings

Other tmajor tparts tof tthis tsource talso tinclude tthe t‘teachings tof tthe highly qualified twriters tsuch tas tGentili, tGrotius, tand tVattel twho twere tconsidered as tthe tsupreme tauthorities tof tthe tinternational tlaw tin tthe t16th tto t18th Centuries.

Textbooks tare tused tas ta tmethod tof tdiscovering twhat tthe tlaw tis ton tany particular tpoint trather tthan tas tthe tsource tof tactual trules, tand tthe writings tof teven tthe tmost trespected tinternational tlawyers tcannot tcreate law. tThese tare tconsidered tas tan tevidentiary tsource tof tlaw tas tthey provide tan texplanation tand tunderstanding tof tthe tInternational tprinciples. They tcarry tan tessential tvalue tbecause tthey tprovide tto tfill tthe tgrey tareas of tInternational tLaw twhere ttreaties tor tcustoms tdo tnot texist

Other sources of International Law

International tlaw tis tnot tbased ton ta tset tof trules tand ttherefore tarticle t38 is tnot texhaustive. tThere tare tvarious tother tfactors tthat tdevelop tthe tusage of tInternational tLaw twhich tinclude tdeclarations tof tSecurity tCouncil resolutions, tdeclarations, tand trecommendations tadopted tby tthe tUN General tAssembly, tInternational tmorality tand tequity, tetc.

The tworld tis tconstantly tevolving tand tthe tproblems tare tbecoming tmore complex, tthe tresolutions tand tdeclarations tadopted tby tassembly tact tas tan inevitable timpact tupon tthe tdirection tadopted tby tmodern tinternational law. tThe tway tstates tvote tin tthe tGeneraltAssembly tand tthe texplanations upon tsuch toccasions tconstitute tevidence tof tstate tpractice tand tstate understanding tas tto tthe tlaw.

For texample, tin tthe tcase tof tthe tUSA tvs tNicaragua, tGeneral tAssembly had asked tthe tcourt tfor tan tadvisory topinion ton tthe tquestion: t“is tthe threat or use tof tNuclear tweapons tin tany tcircumstances tpermitted tunder International tLaw?” tThe tcourt tafter ta treview tof tthe trelevant tinternational legal tinstrument tas twell tas tthe tSecurity tCouncils’ tGeneral tAssembly resolution tof tthe tmatters treached ta tresolution tthat tthe tthreat tor tuse tof nuclear tweapons twould tgenerally tbe tcontrary tto tthe trules tof International tLaw tapplicable tto tarmed tconflicts tand tin tparticular tthe principles tand trules tof thumanitarian tlaw.

The tconcept tof tequity thas tbeen treferred tto tin tseveral tcases. tIn tthe Rann of tKutch tArbitration tbetween tIndia tand tPakistan tin t1968, tthe tTribunal agreed tthat tequity tformed tpart tof tinternational tlaw tand tthat taccordingly, the tparties tcould trely ton tsuch tprinciples tin tthe tpresentation tof ttheir cases.

UN thas tprovided ta ttrue tcompliment tfor tthe tgap tcreated tin twhat tis supposed tto tbe tan taccurate treflection tof tother tsources tof tinternational law tand tits tactivities thas tpositively taffected tlawmaking tways tby resolutions tand tfaster tmeans tby t15 tmembers tof tthe tSecurity tCouncil tand 191 tmembers tof tthe tGeneral tAssembly tas tgreater tneeds tarise tfor tfast development tof tinternational tlaw tcodified tby tInternational tlaw commission t

States and International Organisation

International tLaw tis ta tsystem tof trights tand tduties tgiven tto ta tlegal system tso tthat tthey tcan texercise tthem tat ta tglobal tlevel. tThere tare different tInternational tbodies tthat tare tsubject tto tpossession tof tsuch trights under tcustomary tlaw tand ttherefore talso thave tthe tprivilege tfor tbringing any tclaim tif tthere tis ta tviolation tof ttheir trights.

The tdetermination tof tthe tpersonality tof tthese tbodies tdepends tmainly upon tthe tnature tand textent tof tparticular trights tand tduties. tWith tthe evolution tof tInternational tlaw, tit tis tnecessary tto tdetermine tthe tinter-relationship tbetween tthese tbodies tand ttheir tcapacity tto tenforce tclaims tas per ttheir trights tand tduties. tThese tbodies tmay tinclude tstates, tinternational organizations, tregional torganizations, tnon-governmental torganizations, tand individuals.


States thave tinternational tlegal tpersonality tto tthe tfullest textent. tThey constitute tone tof tthe tmost timportant tinternational torganizations tas tthey form tthe tprimary tcentre tfor tthe tcollection tof tthe tsocial tactivities tof civilization.

The doctrine of Recognition – Creation of Statehood

Recognition tof tthe tstate tis tan tInternational tConcept twherein ta tnew tstate or tan texisting tstate tis tgiven ta tformal tacknowledgement tof tbeing ta member tof tthe tInternational tcommunity. tAccording tto tArticle t1 tof tthe Montevideo tConvention ton tthe tRights tand tDuties tof tStates, t1933 tand Oppenheim, tthe tentity tof ta tstate tcan tbe tcreated tif tit tpossesses tthe following tcharacteristics:

  1. Defined tTerritory

  2. Population

  3. Government

  4. Capacity tto tenter tinto ta trelationship twith tanother tstate

However, tthere tis tno tset tpattern trecognized tso tfar twhich tforms ta particular tbase tfor tthe trecognition tof tstatehood tas tper tthe tabove tcriteria. Such tprovisions tare tneither texhaustive tnor timmutable. tRecognition tof ta statehood tgrants tcertain tprivileges tin tthe tform tof trights, tduties, tand immunities twhich tinclude tthe tauthority tto tenter tinto ta tforeign trelation with tanother tstate, tbecame ta tpart tof ta ttreaty, tthe tright tto undergotsuccession tand tbecome ta tmember tof tthe tUnited tNations. tThere are ttwo ttheories ton trecognition twhich tare: t

Declaratory Theory

The ttheory twas tpropounded tby teminent tjurists tsuch tas tFisher tand Brierly, tunder tthis ttheory tthe tindependence tof ta tnew tstate tdoes tnot take into taccount tits tacceptance tby tother tstates. tThe ttheory thas tbeen tgiven in Article t3 tof tthe tMontevideo tConvention twhere tit trecognizes ttheexistence of ta tnew tstate tdoes tnot tdepend tupon tthe tmind tof tthe texisting tstate’s consent.

Consecutive Theory

Oppenheim tproposed tthis ttheory twherein tit tstated tthat tfor ta tstate tto tbe considered tas tan tInternational tentity, tit tis tnecessary tfor tit tto tbe recognized tby tother tsovereign tstates tso tthat tit tcan tenjoy tits trights tand duties. tThe ttheory tdoes tnot tpropose tthe tnon-existence tof ta tstate trather it tplaces tan temphasis ton tacceptance tby tother tstates tfor ta tstate tto tenjoy their texclusive trights. t

Recognition tof ta tStates

There tare ttwo tmodes tof trecognition tof tstates twhich tare tas tfollows: