International law is the set of rules generally regarded and accepted as binding in relations between states and nations. It serves as the indispensable framework for the practice of stable and organized international relations. International law differs from national legal systems in that it only concerns nations rather than private citizens. National law may become international law when treaties delegate national jurisdiction to supranational tribunals such as the European Court of Human Rights or the International Criminal Court. Treaties such as the Geneva Conventions may require national law to conform.
International law is consent-based governance. This means that a state member of the international community is not obliged to abide by international law unless it has expressly consented to a particular course of conduct. This is an issue of state sovereignty.
The term “international law” can refer to three distinct legal disciplines:
- Public international law, which governs the relationship between provinces and international entities. It includes these legal fields: treaty law, law of sea, international criminal law, the laws of war or international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
- Private international law, or conflict of laws, which addresses the questions of (1) which jurisdiction may hear a case, and (2) the law concerning which jurisdiction applies to the issues in the case.
- Supranational law or the law of supranational organizations, which concerns regional agreements where the laws of nation states may be held inapplicable when conflicting with a supranational legal system when that nation has a treaty obligation to a supranational collective.
The two traditional branches of the field are: