Example Human Rights Essay: Human rights in international law

Example Human Rights Essay: Human rights in international law
This essay will discuss three assertions: (i) that international law was not intended to deal with rights of individuals; (ii) that international law is not equipped to deal with rights of individuals; (iii) that individual rights should be the concern of domestic legal systems only.
We will deal with eachof these in turn, with reference to international legal instruments andbodies. We will observe first of all how the rights of individuals, althoughfalling outside the province of international law as it was conceived in the1600s, began to seep into the framework of international legal rules over thecenturies, eventually coming to prominence during the 'human rights era' thatfollowed the end of the Second World War. We will consider secondly the variousmechanisms that have been put in place by the international community in orderto deal with the enforcement and observance of individual rights enshrined ininternational legal instruments. Lastly, we will critically assess the claimthat questions about individual rights should be the sole concern of domesticlegal systems.

Thescholars who laid the intellectual foundations of international law in theWestern world, like Hugo Grotius (1625) and John Locke (1690), all stressed intheir writings that legal systems, be they domestic or international, werefounded in natural law and commonly accepted standards of (Christian)morality. It may seem surprising, therefore, that for centuries the rights ofindividuals played no significant role in the framework of international law.International law, as the name suggests, was the body of legal rules governingthe relations between states - 'the law of nations'. Nation states, and notindividuals, were the 'subjects' of international law. The behaviour of astate towards individuals within its own territorial boundaries was governed byits domestic legal system. Any interference by one state in the internalaffairs of another, for whatever reason, was viewed as a violation of statesovereignty, and as a threat to stability in international relations.

Itdid not take long for international law to begin to concern itself with thewelfare of individual human beings. However, when this did start to occur itwas not because human compassion and religious morality had risen to the forein international relations; it was motivated rather by the reciprocal politicaland economic interests of states. An early concern of nation states was themanner in which their diplomats and other nationals were treated when residingand conducting their business in the territory of another state, as noted byLouis Henkin (1989):

Ofcourse, every State was legitimately concerned with what happened to itsdiplomats, to its diplomatic mission and to its property in the territory ofanother State. States were concerned, and developed norms to assure, thattheir nationals (and the property of their nationals) in the territory ofanother State be treated reasonably, 'fairly', and the system and the law earlyidentified an international standard of justice by which a State must abide inits treatment of foreign nationals.

Once such norms were agreed between two states, it was nolonger possible for either of them to assert that the treatment of individualswithin its borders was a matter exclusively to be dealt with by its domesticlegal system, a point that was stressed in an Advisory Opinion on NationalityDecrees Issued in Tunis and Morocco (1923) of the Permanent Court ofInternational Justice (the forerunner to the International Court of Justice).However, although the rights of individuals were thus 'internationalised' to alimited extent, the international agreements in question did not permit statesto take action against any state that was deemed to be violating the rights ofits own nationals. The position under international law in this respect beganto change with the developing doctrine of humanitarian intervention.

First expounded by Hugo Grotius (1625), the doctrine ofhumanitarian intervention allowed for limited exceptions to the rule thatstates were prohibited from interfering with the internal affairs of otherstates for the benefit of individuals within those other states. This could bedone to stop the maltreatment by a state of its own nationals 'when thatconduct was so brutal and large-scale as to shock the conscience of thecommunity of nations' (Stowell 1921). The doctrine has been much abusedthroughout history, and is often invoked as a pretext for the invasion oroccupation of weaker countries. However, it shows that states were becomingconcerned with the welfare of individuals even when this was not directlylinked to political and economic interests to be derived at the state level.

As we moved into the nineteenth century, a new wave ofconcern for human welfare sparked changes within the international system.European and American states abolished slavery and the slave trade, andinternational agreements were put in place to govern the conduct of war betweenstates in such a way as to minimise cruelty and brutality in internationalconflicts. The Hague Regulations (1899) sought to codify principles ofcustomary international law that had developed over time in relation to landwarfare, making provisions to outlaw certain weapons that had provedparticularly destructive to individuals on the battlefield and civilians, andto protect the welfare of prisoners of war.

Example Human Rights Essay: Human rights in international law 6.9 of 10 on the basis of 2071 Review.