A Glimpse of the International Law

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Your emphasis on mutual respect and the elimination of inequalities and power imbalances resonates deeply with the ideals of fairness and justice in international relations. ILLUSTRATION: PIXABAY
1. Please let me be honest. I am not an international law expert. International law is so wide, delicate, and demanding a subject that I believe only the highly qualified jurists and eminent scholars shall have all the credentials and the capabilities to write it comprehensively, competently and convincingly. It is quite a task. Nevertheless, I hope you’ll be good enough to let me present just a glimpse of international law from a law student’s point of view. In saying “a law student’s point of view”, believe me, I really mean it in the literal sense of the phrase. And on this point, I think you may wish to ask me: why do you, an oldie, a retired civil servant, consider yourself a law student? My answer is simply because I am still spending my time studying a few subjects I am interested in. And of course, international law is a subject that I like to study for my own academic interest. Still, I think you might wish to shoot me another question. Why, despite your age, do you keep on learning? Again, my answer is that I believe that there is no end to the learning process; in other words, I think “no educative process is ever the end; it is always the beginning of more education, more learning, more living”. Well, on the question of the process of learning, may I ask you, my dear reader, to have your opinion? What do you say? I wonder.
Now, let’s say something about the topic.
What is the international law?
2. International law is the “law of nations” or a body of rules that govern inter-state relations. International law treats all states the same, no matter what they are – big or small, rich or poor, strong or weak. Hence, the principle of equality before the law. States are subjects of the international law. States are subjects of the international law. States are to follow and abide by international law, and international law is not for the states to take into their own hands and abuse to their advantage. As subjects of international law, states have international personalities. By virtue of this, states have rights to enjoy and duties to fulfil under international law. On the other hand, there is also a growing concept that under international law, individuals and corporations have rights and responsibilities in certain situations. Yet, there is another widely accepted view that states have to represent individuals and corporations in their relations with their counterparts.
3. In the broadest possible sense, the international law may be classified into two kinds: the customary international law and the conventional international law. Customary international law is that type of law which is based upon the well-established age-old customs, traditions and certain rules of conduct, which the modern states have accepted to be binding on them and which they have also agreed as to their enforce-ability by appropriate means in case of their violations. Conventional international law is that branch of law that takes as its source the agreements, decisions, and resolutions reached upon and adopted by the international conventions and/or the multilateral treaties: For example, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, etc.
The Role of International Law in today’s world
4. With the increasing popularity and worldwide application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) – the world is being regarded as a single community or a global village. And in this global village of ours, we have swifter, easier, and more convenient contacts and communications with each other, states with states, and peoples with peoples. Thus, states become more and more interdependent and interactive. As such, each state has obviously become “a member in the family of nations”. So, in this ICT age, I think international law has come to have a more active and important role to play as it becomes central to the global community concerns. In this connection, I think “the doctrine of incorporation” should be explained briefly. “The doctrine of incorporation” is the principle recognized by many states that international law is part of, i.e., incorporated into the laws of the land. Consequently, the courts take judicial notice of it. The constitutions of a number of states expressly provide for the adoption of the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land.
5. Well, now, the sovereign equality of states: I firmly believe it is the cardinal principle of international law. With a view to reinvigorating the principles of international law concerning friendly relations and cooperation among states in accordance with the UN charter, the 25th session of the United Nations General Assembly solemnly proclaimed them under its resolutions, GA 2625 (XXV). It was simply called the General Assembly Declaration. The principles thus proclaimed include, among other things, the following:
– The principle concerning the duty not to intervene in matters which fall within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.
– The duty of states to cooperate with one another.
– The principle of equal rights and self-determination of the peoples.
– The principle of sovereign equality of states.
On the principle of sovereign equality, they have equal rights and duties, and they are equal members of the international community, notwithstanding differences of an economic, political or other nature. In particular, sovereign equality includes the following elements.
(1)All states are juridically equal.
(2)Each state enjoys the rights inherent in full sovereignty.
(3)Each state has the duty to respect the personality of other states.
(4)The territorial integrity and political independence of the state are inviolable.
(5)Each state has the right to freely choose and develop its political, social, economic and cultural systems.
(6)Each state has the duty to comply fully and in good faith with its international obligations and to live in peace with other states.
6. The General Assembly Declaration also proclaimed that the principles of the UN Charter should constitute the basic principles of international law. It further appealed to all states to be guided by these principles in their international conduct and to develop their mutual relations on the basis of their strict observance.
7. Well, the aforementioned are just a gist of the principles of international law proclaimed by the General Assembly Declaration GA2625(XXV). However, all these principles, if I may have to express my own opinion, should not remain mere solemn proclamations in the UN resolution nor mere splendid words recorded in UN documents. Each and every principle should be strictly and unreservedly followed and observed by all states in good faith. Moreover, I would also like to say if a law or a principle is to be followed, it must be followed “not only to the letter of the law but also to the spirit as well”. Then, states shall treat each other with mutual respect, and the rule of law will prevail in interstate relations. And then and only then, I think, the undesirable tendencies of “some countries to sit in judgement over others, and the big to bully the small, the rich to oppress the poor, and the strong to lord it over the weak” shall disappear from this earth once. For all, I hope you’ll agree with me. What do you say, my dear reader?
(1) The International Law, a treatise by L Oppenheim.
(2) Diplomatic Handbook, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
(3) Significant terms and their meanings in the international law,
International law and treaties division, MoFA.
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