Fairness in International Law and Institutions


International law refers to the law that operates between independent states and regulates the operations of many international organizations. The international agreements amongst states constitute the international law and its rules are binding to the signatories. The customary laws recognized by the international community forms one of the sources of International law. The rules of the international law may be universal or general, legally binding all the states with similar ideologies or geographical locations.

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International law does not have a legislature, judiciary, or a governing entity raising questions as to whether the international law is legally binding to states or whether states feel the necessity to comply with international law. Contrary to this belief, states do comply with the international law even though few nations violate it. Economic sanctions and use of force by the UN Security Council on a state that threatens peace or does any act of aggression makes states to feel obliged to adhere to the rules of the International law. Furthermore, the element of reciprocity in international law makes states to act reasonably in expectation that other states will reciprocate similarly.

The Binding Force of International Law

States have an obligation to observe the International Law based on the theory of consent (Malcom 44). States are independent and free agents with bodies that impose rules upon them and they can only observe the International Law based on their own consent. However, consent alone is not satisfactory as a state might decide to withdraw consent thereby breaching its obligations under international law. However, the doctrine of consensus provides for the influence of the majority in creating rules of international law and the acceptance of these rules by the other states.

Much of the International law constitutes an agreement between states on the normative standards by entering into treaties (Buchanan 54). The creation of new customary laws does not depend on the consent of a particular state like the case of the independence of Kosovo. The conflict led to the Kosovo war in the 1996-1999 (Korman 76). In 2008, Kosovo declared independence despite Serbia’s questions concerning the credibility and authenticity of that independence. The international court of justice ruled that the declaration of independence by Kosovo did not violate the international law.

The International treaties

States are obligated to comply with the international law because of the UN Charter that calls for the maintenance of peace and the respect of human rights by all nations (Frank 125).The UN charter states that obligations to the United Nations prevail over all other treaty obligations. After ratifying the Charter, the member state has the obligation of obeying the international law as stipulated in UN Charter. The Rio declaration of 1992 provides for settling environmental disputes between disputing nations.

The Rio declaration on environment and development outlines 27 principles that guide environmental protection and development of nations. Principle 24 provides for the protection and development of the environment in times of armed conflict with regard to the internal law. It also provides for the sovereign right of nations to exploit their own resources in accordance to the principles of International law and the UN Charter.

Although states may decide not to adhere to the rules of the International law, other elements like reciprocity in action make states to comply. Reputational sanctions make a state to comply with the rules of international law for fear of affecting relations with other states and its reputation. Friendly or neutral countries may side with a reputable country involved in a conflict rather than its opponent. This may be because of good public opinion for support caused by the observance of the International law. Furthermore, the formulation of most business agreements occurs within legal terms. Business claims recognize international agreements and thus states have to comply with international law.

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Customary International Law

Customary international law includes international legal norms that by far affect state behavior. The customary laws form part of the domestic laws of a nation and are important in maintaining good international relations between nations. The Customary international laws apply to all states including non-signatories. Customary international laws influence regional treaties by providing rules for the interpretation of the treaty especially during resolution of conflicts. The customary international law is one of the sources of international law and is the basis for the requirement for the states to honor treaties.


The international law does not provide for binding contracts or dispute resolution courts to settle interstate disputes. However, most of the times states comply with the International law because of international treaties and customary international laws. Direct economic sanctions imposed by the UN Charter make many states not to violate the international law as such sanctions may be costly to the economy. The state may also choose to comply for fear of affecting its reputation with other states in future. Nevertheless, there is an unbecoming behavior by some states to violate the international law despite the threat of sanctions from the international community. For instance, Iran seems not threatened by sanctions from the UN.

Works Cited

Buchanan, Allen. Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Franck, Thomas. Fairness in International Law and Institutions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Korman, Sharon. The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999.

Malcom, Shaw. International Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 2003.

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