Many of us have heard of international law, but most of us don’t really understand what international law deals with. If someone leaves the United States and breaks a law in another country, one of two things usually happens: they are tried in that country for breaking their laws or they are extradited to the United States and they stand trial there. So what does international law govern, exactly? Let’s browse the headlines and see if we can find some timely international law cases going on in the world right now.
While war is one of the most terrible inventions of man, international law plays a huge part in enforcing the laws of war and many civil rights agreements that pertain to war, such as the Geneva Conventions. For instance, the Nuremburg Trials after World War II was an international court of law that sought to punish members of the Nazi party and other people who fought on the side of the Axis. People were sent to jail for running the terrible concentration camps and for other war crimes. War crime tribunals aren’t a thing of the past, either. There are currently ones being held in the former Yugoslavia pertaining to the ethnic cleansing and war that happened there recently and there are even rumors that war crime tribunals will be held after the Iraq war and could include such well known politicians as former Australian Prime Minister John Howard and even some members of the United States government. These are just a few of the cases heard under international law.
In the European Union, there is an international law court set up to try to govern and resolve disputes between member countries. Think of it as a “supreme court” of Europe, where the individual countries are almost like individual states in the US. This court can help to resolve trade disputes, monitor fair elections and much more. Since the European Union is a fairly new construct, the rules, regulations and authority of this international court is still be defined and refined, but as long as the EU exists, there will be a court enforcing international law governing it.
Some international courts govern areas far smaller than an entire continent. The International Court of Justice may have a far reaching name, but in reality, they govern maritime and fishing disputes between various countries. You can imagine how difficult this can be for various fishing fleets fishing in nearby waters who have different standards for what fish can be kept, what can be killed and other such problems. It may not make the same kind of impact as the EU court or war crimes tribunals, but they are absolutely vital to that industry that a court exists that gives legally binding rulings that everyone involved must follow.
As you can see, the reach of international law is truly fascinating to study. Every day, international courts and governing bodies make thousands of binding rulings that help shape the world we live in.