International law is a body of legal rules, regulations and accepted practices by which countries, organizations and people throughout the world interact with each other and with citizens of different countries. There are two basic categories of this type of law: public and private. Public international law deals with relationships between nations or between a nation and organizations or people from other countries. Private international law deals with disputes between citizens of different countries or businesses from different countries, especially when there is a question of which country's laws apply or where the dispute should be resolved. There are certain courts and bodies, such as the United Nations Security Council, that have the power to decide cases of international law.
Sources of International Laws
Countries are bound by international laws only when they agree to be bound by them. They might join international organizations, such as the United Nations or European Union, and agree to follow all of the rules, laws and guidelines set forth by the organization. They also might agree to treaties, pacts, charters or other agreements that include specific laws or rules. Sometimes, however, countries that are not party to these agreements might be held accountable by other countries for violating certain laws or rules. This is especially true for matters such as human rights, wartime laws and territorial rights.
Public International Law
The public variety of this type of law applies when two or more countries or sovereign entities are involved. These laws might cover topics such as human rights, wartime laws and the laws at sea. Violations of these laws might result in ramifications such as sanctions by other countries, the ending of certain agreements between the countries that are involved or, in the most severe cases, declarations of war.
Private International Law
When legal matters involve people, businesses or private organizations from separate countries, rather than government bodies, it is considered private international law. This type of law often involves settling matters such as which country's laws apply or where the case will be decided. It often is necessary for governments to step in to help their citizens settle these matters or to help them achieve a fair result.
In addition to matters such as human rights, maritime laws and war crimes, subjects that typically are covered by international laws include drug control, aviation laws, telecommunications, space law and other topics that often stretch beyond a country's borders. Other international laws concern the way countries interact with each other, such as in trade relations and matters of military disarmament. One of the growing areas that these laws cover is that of intellectual property rights, because technology advances have made copyright infringement and digital piracy easier.
The most well-known court that decides international legal matters is the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, which was established by the United Nations in 1945. Serious matters of public international law are often decided by the United Nations Security Council, which is most concerned with maintaining peace. A well-known international court that decides less serious matters is the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which was established in 1984 and handles cases that involve international athletics.