International law

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Illustrated title page "Hugo the Great of the Truth of the Christian Worship." Along with the earlier work of Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili, Hugo Grotius laid the foundations for international law.

International law or the law of nations refers to laws that govern the conduct of independent nations in their relationships with one another. It differs from other legal systems in that it primarily concerns states rather than private citizens.

Quotes[edit]

  • The law of nations is founded upon reason and justice, and the rules of conduct governing individual relations between citizens or subjects of a civilized state are equally applicable as between enlightened nations. The considerations that international law is without a court for its enforcement and that obedience to its commands practically depends upon good faith instead of upon the mandate of a superior tribunal only give additional sanction to the law itself and brand any deliberate infraction of it not merely as a wrong but as a disgrace. A man of true honor protects the unwritten word which binds his conscience more scrupulously, if possible, than he does the bond a breach of which subjects him to legal liabilities, and the United States, in aiming to maintain itself as one of the most enlightened nations, would do its citizens gross injustice if it applied to its international relations any other than a high standard of honor and morality.
  • The problem the Great Powers now faced (after world war II) was how to create a process that the world would consider something more than vengeance masquerading as righteousness, something more than “victors’ justice.” The solution was to demonstrate that their prosecutions had a basis in the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties -- in, that is, the already existing laws of war. In the process of designing those prosecutions, they consolidated and advanced the meaning and power of international law itself, a concept particularly needed in a postwar world of atomic weapons and a looming U.S.-Soviet conflict. Three-quarters of a century and many wars and weapon systems later, enforceable international law still remains humanity’s best hope for adjudicating past war crimes and preventing future ones -- but only if great nations like the United States do not declare themselves exceptions to the rule of law.


The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904)[edit]

Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe's The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 105-106.
  • Writers on international law . . . cannot make the law … it must have received the assent of the nations who are to be bound by it. This assent may be express … or may be implied from established usage.
  • International law is part of the common law.
    • Pigott, B., Attorney General v. Sillem and others, " The Alexandra" (1864), 12 W. R. 258.
  • International law, like the moral law, is part of the law of England, but only to the extent that the Courts will not help those that break it.
  • In questions of international law we should not depart from any settled decisions, nor lay down any doctrine inconsistent with them.
  • A great part of the law of nations stands upon the usage and practice of nations. It is introduced, indeed, by general principles: but it travels with those general principles only to a certain extent: and, if it stops there, you are not at liberty to go further, and to say, that mere general speculations would bear you out in a further progress— thus, for instance, on mere general principles it is lawful to destroy your enemy; and mere general principles make no great difference as to the manner by which this is to be effected; but the conventional law of mankind, which is evidenced in their practice, does make a distinction, and allows some, and prohibits other, modes of destruction.
    • Sir W. Scott, "The Flad Oyen" (1799), 1 C. Rob. 140.
  • The voluntary law of nations derives its force from the presumed consent of nations, the conventional from their express consent; the consuetudinary from their tacit consent.
    • Wolfus, "Jus Gentium" (Prolegomena), § 25.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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