Subjects of International Law


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Subjects of International Law can be described as those persons or entities who possess international personality. Throughout the 19th century, only States qualified as subjects of international law. After, the Second World War, more and more new actors emerged in the international legal arena such as the intergovernmental organizations created by States, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) created by individuals, multinationals and even natural persons (i.e. individuals). These can now be considered as having to a large or sometimes limited extend the capacity to become international persons.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research on Subjects of International Law. It provides the basic legal materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's subject heading (keyword) Subjects of International Law is instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.


Reference works


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  • Noortmann, M., A. Reinisch and C. Ryngaert (eds.), Non-state Actors in International Law, Oxford, USA, Hart Publishing, 2015.


    The role and position of non-state actors in international law is the subject of a long-standing and intensive scholarly debate. This handbook explores the participation of this new category of actors in an international legal system that has historically been dominated by states. It explores the most important issues, actors and theoretical approaches with respect to these new participants in international law. It provides the reader with a comprehensive and state-of-the-art overview of the most important legal and political developments and perspectives. Relevant non-state actors discussed in this volume include, in particular, international governmental organisations, international non-governmental organisations, multinational companies, investors and armed opposition groups. Their legal position is considered in relation to specific issue-areas, such as humanitarian law, human rights, the use of force and international responsibility. The main legal theories on non-state actors’ position in international law – neo-positivism, the policy-oriented approach and transnational law – are covered at the beginning of the publication, and the essential political science perspectives – on non-state actors’ role in international politics and globalisation, as well as their soft power – are presented at the end.

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  • Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales (eds.), Les Sujets, Grandes Pages du Droit International, Volume 1, Paris, Editions A. Pedone, 2015.

    497 E 25

    Avec cette nouvelle collection consacrée aux Grandes  pages du droit international, l’Institut des hautes études internationales  a choisi d’entreprendre l’étude du passé de la doctrine  internationaliste, pour y partir à la  recherche des pages qui permettraient de comprendre mieux le présent, mieux le  penser et, idéalement, mieux nommer les choses. Il s’est représenté cette  doctrine comme un vaste champ, laissant à chacun de ses membres le soin d’y cueillir des fleurs éparses, selon son propre choix et ses affinités  personnelles. Dans la composition de ce premier petit bouquet  consacré aux sujets du droit international, on ne cherchera d’autre critère que  le goût de l’Institut et celui de ses doctorants, docteurs et professeurs ayant  conçu collectivement la journée d’études dont cet ouvrage est issu. Le lecteur y retrouvera, ou y découvrira, l’étonnante diversité doctrinale qui fait la richesse, et la difficulté, du droit international.

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  • Summers, J., Peoples and International Law, Leiden, Brill Nijhoff, 2014.

    peoples and international law

    Peoples and International Law is a detailed survey of the law of self-determination with a focus on the concept of nations and peoples. It engages with different aspects of this law with particular emphasis on the drafting and implementation of international instruments. The second edition includes new coverage of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the African and Arab charters. It considers recent practice by the Human Rights Committee, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights dealing with the emerging political, economic and environmental aspects of the right. The book looks at the interaction of international law, nationalism and liberalism in theories of nationhood and self-determination, as well as, the historical development of the right and the decisions of international bodies. Lastly, it examines practice in this area, including new developments in remedial independence and international territorial administration.

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  • Kettemann, M.C., The Future of Individuals in International Law: Lessons From International Internet Law, The Hague, Eleven International Publishing, 2013.


    The state-centric international order is in flux and the role of the individual as an actor in international law is growing. Yet in most international law regimes, states continue to interposition themselves between individuals and international law. Against the background of humanization which is shown to permeate all international legal regimes, this book sketches the future of individuals in international law. From the normative success of International Internet Law as the most innovative post-interposition regime this book draws lessons for the optimal design of (existing and emerging) legal frameworks. Describing in detail the characteristics of a post-interposition regime, including a commitment to multistakeholderism, non-traditional normative instruments and system-wide disintermediation, this book demonstrates why the future of individuals in international law looks bright.

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  • Harel Ben-Ari, R., The Legal Status of International Non-Governmental Organizations: Analysis of Past and Present Initiatives (1912-2012), Leiden, Nijhoff, 2013.

    The Legal Status of International Non-Governmental Organizations

    The discourse regarding the legal status of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) is not new; in fact, it has already progressed throughout the last 100 years. However, most of the proposals to grant official status to INGOs, or to otherwise regulate their cross-border activity, are relatively unknown to international lawyers. A perusal of these initiatives against their unique historical background will prove highly significant in dissecting the complexities involved in formulating a comprehensive scheme for the regulation of INGOs. Innovatively, this work outlines and evaluates the sequence of attempts to propose a formal status for INGOs. It demonstrates how this historical contextual analysis provides an invaluable perspective that is essential for the informed review of contemporary schemes and theoretical trends, relevant to the consideration of the status of INGOs. Unfortunately, most contemporary writers and activists who deal with the normative aspects of INGO activity neglect this crucial perspective.

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  • French, D., Statehood and Self-Determination: Reconciling Tradition and Modernity in International Law, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    French, D., Statehood and Self-Determination: Reconciling Tradition and Modernity in International Law, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    The concepts of statehood and self-determination provide the normative structure on which the international legal order is ultimately premised. As a system of law founded upon the issue of territorial control, ascertaining and determining which entities are entitled to the privileges of statehood continues to be one of the most difficult and complex issues. Moreover, although the process of decolonisation is almost complete, the principle of self-determination has raised new challenges for the metropolitan territories of established states, including the extent to which 'internal' self-determination guarantees additional rights for minority and other groups. As the controversies surrounding remedial secession have revealed, the territorial integrity of a state can be questioned if there are serious and persistent breaches of a people's human rights. This volume brings together such debates to reflect further on the current state of international law regarding these fundamental issues.

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  • Is Sudan set for a divorce?

    Sudan has a history of protracted conflict between the predominately Muslim north and the largely Christian south. On 9-15 January 2011, the citizens of Southern Sudan took part in a referendum to determine if they wish to become an independent state. Although South Sudan has been an autonomous region since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) […]

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  • The Influence of NGOs on International Law

    From a traditional point of view, International Public Law has been understood as a set of rules produced by states in order to regulate relations between them. Since the end of the Cold War, the role of NGOs in international law is growing in importance and their activities are reaching the remotest parts of the world. In this blog, I will briefly discuss how NGOs have transformed international law as well as how they continue to contribute to the development of international law.

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See also

More Research guides on Public International Law

PPL keywords