Public International Law

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Public International Law

Public international law governs primarily inter-state relations. It is  public international law which determines states´ the rights and obligations  in relation to each other. Besides states, also international organisations, and to some degree even individuals, are subject to the rules of public international law, for example, as regards human rights.

A basic precept of public international law is that states are sovereign entities and that they are entitled to equal treatment.  Unlike national law, public international law is a horizontally oriented legal system, in which legal rules are created and implemented by the states themselves. The premise of this system  is that the states give their consent to be bound by a certain rule. Consent can be given in writing (by means of an agreement, treaty, convention, pact, protocol) or by means of state practice (customary law). No state can be forced, in principle, to enter into an agreement against its will, but states are usually bound by rules which are generally considered as part of customary law.

Public international law examines questions such as: How are legal rules created as well as when and why do states consider themselves to be bound by these rules? When can a new entity be recognised as a new state? What is the relationship between national and international law? In what way may a state exercise its powers in its own territory? Who enjoys immunity from the exercise of powers by the state? When can a state be held responsible for an act or omission? By what means can the international community control another state’s treatment of its own citizens? When and how can armed force be used in international conflicts? What are the rights and obligations of a state as regards international waters or outer space? What global rules exist to protect the environment? How can individuals guilty of grave breaches of international law be brought to justice?


Jaan Paju
Director of Doctoral Studies
Phone: 08-16 32 07

Teresa Simon Almendal
Vice Dean / Chairman of the Research Committee
Phone: 08-16 23 67

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