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Updated: Mar 3, 2022


Subjects of International Law.

Primarily, International Law is concerned with the rights duties and interests of States. As'International law 'is between or among the States, some jurists hold the view. that 'only the State* are the subjects of International law'.

Subjects of International Law :

1. Incumbent of International rights and duties :

2. Possessor of procedural privileges of suing in International Courts and Tribunals :

3. Possessor of interests under International law.

4. Capacity to enter into treaties & International obligations.


i) Though it. is the conduct of the state that is regulated by international law, in the ultimate analysis it is the conduct of the individuals that is regulated. As Westlake opines 'The rights & duties of the States are ultimately the rights and duties of-men. that compose them. Hence, though the States are normal subjects, they may endow the individuals with the International rights & duties and to that extent make them subjects of International law.

ii) Pirates who commit Piracy Jure Gentium on the high seas are liable to punishment under International law. To that extent they are the subjects of International law,, but some jurists call them as objects.

iii) Slaves : International convention has provides for the abolition of slavery. The convention also provides for the rights of the,slaves. They enjoy these rights as subjects of International law.

iv) Belligerents : are subject to International rights and duties in respect of war. Hence, they are subjects of International law. e.g. Geneva Conventions on the Prisoners of war apply to them..

v) Individuals : May be allowed to appear before the International tribunals, like ICJ. In Danzsig officials case, the ICJ. has opined that individuals may be conferred with certain rights by States.

vi) War Criminals : The Nirenberg and Tokyo tri al s aft er II World War showed that individuals could be tried for International crimes like crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and crimes under the law of War. Eichmann’s Trial fortifies the above position. The Nuremberg- Trial rightly stated that crimes against International law are committed by men not by abstract entities (States) and only by punishing individuals who commit crimes, can the provisions of International, law be enforced.

vii) Genocide Convention : This provi des for punishment of those who commit genocide, the punishment may be awarded by National or International courts.

viii) European Commission for Human Rights has been empowered to investigate and to report on violation of' human rights by the Member States. The Lawless case decided by the European Court of Human Rights is an example.

ix) United Nations : The I. C. J. in the Reparations case held that the United Nations is an International person. It is also 'declared as the subject of International law, capable of International rights and obligations.

x) The Specialised Agencies like I.L.O., U.P.U., are International persons and hence the subject s of International law as per their Constitutions.

xi) Regional Arrangements : Like the NATO., SEATO., etc. are also endowed with International personality. Hence they are also subjects of International law in a limited .

These factors evidently prove that apart from Sovereign States, there are others which are also the subjects though ' .in a limited sense. It is no doubt true that States are mainly the subjects, as the capacity to follow International obligations, is on them primarily.


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