international law

International Law: its reality and existence

International law is considered one of the most important branches of law studied by jurists in various countries of the world. Studies unanimously agree on his definition of the rules that regulate relations between states in the international community. As such, it includes a set of rules and principles that define the rights and duties of states and regulate their interactions at the international level.


If we trace the rules of international law throughout the ages, we will find that they have gone through remarkable stages of development. In ancient times, there were only some basic rules that regulated relations between countries, such as the concept of national sovereignty and the right of a free ship to navigate across the oceans. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, international law was influenced by religious, moral, and Roman laws, from which the concepts of just war and international reconciliation arose. In modern and the emergence of diplomacy times, international law has begun to gain more complexity and development. Peace conferences and international treaties emerged, such as the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years’ War in Europe and established a system of sovereign states. During this era, the rules and principles of public international law developed to reflect the principle of sovereign equality and the prohibition of colonialism. In the twentieth century and beyond, as a result of major changes in international relations, international bodies and courts emerged, such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. During this period, new areas of international law were developed, such as human rights, international humanitarian law and environmental rights.


What is notable about the development of the rules of international law throughout the ages is that the apparent laudable goal behind each development was to move from simply preserving sovereignty and national interests to a system focused on protecting human rights and maintaining international peace and security, then to expanding the scope of international cooperation and strengthening the laws that govern Global trade, environmental protection and combating international crimes.


In our current era, international law is based on a range of different sources, including international agreements, international custom, the general laws of the United Nations, and international judicial decisions. There is also an international judicial system that contributes to the development and understanding of international law. International courts, such as the International Court of Justice, resolve legal disputes between countries and provide legal interpretations of applicable international laws. However, international law is considered a decentralized legal system, as there is no central legislative authority that issues international laws. Rather, international laws are formed through the participation of states in the international legislative process, consultations, negotiations, and international trials.


In order to determine the truth about the existence of international law – in the aforementioned sense – it is necessary to verify the availability of two factors that law cannot exist without, and it is not plausible to say that it exists in the absence of either of which. The first of these two factors is the existence of a mechanism to deter countries that violate these rules, regardless of the economic or mili-tary size of those countries. The second is the presence of neutral organizations that maintain the application of previously established rules. This is the same thing that applies to national law of all countries. If the internal legal system of each country had not included deterrent legislation for its violators, regardless of their social or economic status within the country, and had it not been for the presence of an executive authority to ensure the implementation of this law, those countries and their rule of law would not have been recognized. Even the classification of countries is measured by the availability of these two factors.


In the absence of any of the aforementioned factors at the international level, talk about the existence of what is called international law becomes merely a legitimate tool in the hands of some countries or some organizations that they can rely on wherever they want and whenever they want to give legitimacy to their decisions or actions, and they may set it aside at other times to act lawlessness without adhering to binding rules and without deterrence, and then accepting the existence of international law would be absurd.


Realizing the first factor: the consequences of states’ violations of international law

Verifying the availability of the first factor to measure the existence and reality of international law, which is the existence of a mechanism to deter states that violate those rules, regardless of their economic or mili-tary size, can only be achieved by tracking the consequences of states’ transgressions against the rules of international law throughout history. There are a variety of behaviors that violate recognized international laws. Here are some examples of such infringements:

  1. Illegal occupation: When a state seizes the territory of another state by force and occupies it without understanding or consent, it violates the principle of prohibition of illegal occupation stipulated in international law.
  2. Violation of human rights: Some countries may violate the basic human rights of individuals within their territories. This may include torture, arbitrary detention, political repression, and religious or ethnic persecution. These abuses are a violation of international law protecting human rights.
  1. Aggre-ssion and aggre-ssion: When a country attacks another without a legitimate reason or does not rely on legitimate defense, it violates the principle of non-aggre-ssion which is part of international law. This includes mili-tary inva-sion, occupation and unprovoked bom-bing of other countries.
  1. Non-compliance with obligations of international agreements: When countries contract international agreements and do not commit to implementing them or ignore their obligations, they are violating international law. This may include failure to cooperate in extraditing perpetrators or refraining from implementing international judicial decisions.
  1. Support for terro-rism: Some countries may provide direct or indirect support to terro-rist groups, including financing them, training their members, and facilitating their activities. Support for terro-rism is considered a violation of the principles of international law and international resolutions related to combating terro-rism.


There is an abundance of examples of international sanctions imposed on parties that violate international law, including:

  1. UN Sanctions on North Korea: In response to North Korea’s nucl-ear wea-pons and balli-stic mi-ssile programs, the UN Security Council imposed a series of sanctions on North Korea. These sanctions include an ar-ms em-bargo, restrictions on trade in certain goods and technologies, asset freezes, and travel bans targeting individuals and entities involved in North Korea’s wea-pons programs. The aim is to stop the spread of wea-pons of mass des-truction and encourage compliance with international non-proliferation obligations.
  1. European Union sanctions on Russia: After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia. These sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans on Russian officials, restrictions on access to EU capital markets for Russian entities, and bans on certain exports and imports. The sanctions are intended to deter further aggre-ssion and support efforts to resolve the conflict in Ukraine.
  1. UN Sanctions on Libya: The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Libya in response to the violent crackdown on demonstrators during the 2011 uprising against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. The sanctions included an ar-ms em-bargo, asset freezes, travel bans, and measures targeting individuals and entities involved in human rights violations and violence against civilians. The sanctions aim to put pressure on the Libyan government to stop the violence and protect the civilian population.
  1. US sanctions on Syria: In response to the Syrian government’s brutal crackdown on protesters and its involvement in the ongoing civil war, the United States imposed comprehensive sanctions on Syria. These sanctions include various economic measures, such as trade restrictions, financial sanctions, and asset freezes targeting individuals, entities, and sectors associated with the Syrian government. The goal is to increase pressure on the Syrian government to stop human rights violations, end the conflict, and support a political solution.
  1. UN Sanctions on Sudan and South Sudan: In the context of the conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on both countries at different times. The sanctions included an ar-ms em-bargo, asset freezes, and travel bans, and targeted individuals and entities involved in supporting or obstructing peace processes. The sanctions aim to encourage peaceful solutions, protect civilians, and enhance stability in the region.

These examples show some of the violations carried out by some countries on the rules of international law. There is no doubt that enhancing compliance with international law and punishing violators contributes – whenever it exists – to strengthening global peace and stability. What has history recorded in this regard?


Equally, there are an abundance of examples of violations of international law that have not been punished, including:

  1. Myanmar Crisis: Persecution and human rights violations against the Rohingya population in Myanmar have been widely documented, including allegations of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Although some countries have imposed targeted sanctions on specific individuals and entities in Myanmar, no comprehensive international sanctions have been imposed on the country as a whole.
  1. The Isra-eli occupation of the State of Pale-stine: The occupation’s long-term attempts to occupy the land of Pale-stine witnessed all the violations reviewed by international humanitarian law throughout history, without exception. These violations – which continued for more than seventy years – included forcefully seizing and occupying the territory of another country without understanding or consent, and violating basic human rights, including torture, arbitrary detention, and religious or ethnic persecution. Aggre-ssion and aggre-ssion in violation of the principle of non-aggre-ssion, which is considered part of international law. And non-compliance with the obligations of international agreements concluded by Isra-el by not cooperating in implementing international judicial decisions.

These violations were even recorded in reports issued by international organizations.[1]

It is unfortunate that, despite the international community’s confirmation of these violations, many countries did not hesitate, in full view of the international community, to provide financial and milit-ary support, whether direct or indirect, to Isra-el. This represents – in its legal sense – financing, facilitating and supporting terro-rist acts that violate the principles of international law and international resolutions related to combating terro-rism. Not to mention that this support was not met with the imposition of comprehensive international sanctions on the parties participating in it, but rather the international community met it with more approval.

  1. The conflict in Syria: The protracted conflict in Syria has witnessed widespread and severe violations of international humanitarian law committed by multiple parties. These violations include targeting civilians and medical facilities, and the use of chemical wea-pons. Although some targeted sanctions were imposed on specific individuals and entities, no comprehensive international sanctions were imposed on the parties involved in the conflict.


In light of this discrepancy in the international community’s position on imposing international sanctions on violations by some countries and the disregard or inability to follow the same approach if the same violations are committed against other countries, some may say that the decision to impose international sanctions is affected by various factors, including geopolitical considerations. The complexity of the conflict, the involvement of powerful states, and the challenges associated with implementing and effectively enforcing sanctions. Sanctions are often just one tool among many in the international community’s efforts to address violations of international law and promote peace, justice and accountability.

Others may say that we must realize that international law is not a perfect system, and may face challenges and difficulties in applying and monitoring it. International law may sometimes face abuses by some states or pluralism in interpretations and applications. However, this does not mean that international law does not exist or is worthless. The existence of international law and adherence to it reflects the desire to achieve justice and world peace.

Far from siding with any party, what silences this and that, and makes these justifications for the differences in international positions regarding some countries’ violations of the so-called rules of international law mere flimsy arguments, is the fact that international sanctions have not been imposed – throughout human history – in the event of violations of the rules of international law except on countries characterized by mili-tary and economic weakness. International history has never recorded the imposition of a punishment by international organizations – and not by opposition countries – on a country that has military or economic merit. Which brings us back to the question about the reality and existence of international law.


Realizing the second factor: the presence of neutral organizations that maintain the application of previously established rules

On the other hand, the application of international organizations, in the decisions and recommendations they make, to the rules of international law that they have previously established or participated in developing in one way or another, is one of the important matters not only in measuring the extent of the reality and existence of international law, but also in considering the extent of the reality and existence of those organizations. If international organizations make decisions or end their meetings with recommendations that contradict the rules they previously codified or participated in codifying, then there is no room to talk about their existence even if international law exists.


Security Council model

The Security Council is one of the main bodies of the United Nations and has an important role in maintaining international peace and security. The Council consists of fifteen members, including five permanent members (the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom), and ten non-permanent members who are elected for a fixed term of two years.

The Security Council has an important role in imposing and implementing sanctions on countries or entities that commit violations of international law. This role is delegated to the Security Council in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter. When a report is submitted of a violation of international peace and security or a threat to peace, the Security Council can initiate consultations and take escalatory measures to deal with the situation. Among these measures, the Council can impose sanctions on the guilty state or entity.


The sanctions that could be imposed by the Security Council include several forms, including:

  1. Economic sanctions: The Council can impose economic sanctions such as imposing trade bans, freezing financial assets, restricting travel, and imposing fees and levies on the guilty country.
  1. Mili-tary sanctions: The Council can impose mili-tary sanctions such as imposing an ar-ms emb-argo, imposing a no-fly zone, and imposing sanctions on mili-tary exports and imports.
  1. Diplomatic sanctions: The Council can impose diplomatic sanctions such as severing diplomatic relations, withdrawing diplomatic recognition, and restricting bilateral relations with the guilty state.

Implementation and compliance with these sanctions is the responsibility of all UN Member States. Imposing sanctions requires voting on a resolution in the Security Council, as the resolution needs the approval of at least 9 votes, including the approval of the five permanent states present in the Council.


The process of voting on decisions in the Council takes place according to the following mechanism:

  1. General vote: This vote includes important decisions related to issues of international peace and security. A Security Council resolution requires the approval of at least 9 votes, including the approval of all permanent member states, in order to be adopted. If any permanent member state decides to use the right of veto, the decision is considered rejected.
  1. Non-public voting: This voting is used for procedural and technical matters and issues that are not very important. A non-public voting decision requires the approval of a majority of the members present at the session, and is not covered by the veto rules.

Therefore, the right to object (veto) is one of the most important aspects of the voting mechanism in the Security Council. If any permanent member state uses the right to veto, the resolution is considered rejected, even if all other member states are in favour. This right of veto prevents any state from imposing a decision against its national interest.


Hence, it is clear that the Security Council has been unable since its establishment – and will remain so throughout its existence – to pass resolutions or impose sanctions that conflict with the interests of its permanent member states. This means that these latter countries are immune from any sanctions authorized by the international community to the Security Council. The reason for saying that the Security Council will remain so for as long as it exists is that amending the rules of the Security Council requires a change in the United Nations Charter. Since amendments to the Charter are considered constitutional amendments to the organization, they require complex procedures and may require the approval of the majority member states or special approval including the permanent member states. This means that permanent member states can use the right of veto in the Security Council to prevent any amendments to the Council’s rules that might compromise their national interests. This also means that any fundamental amendments to the Council’s rules may be difficult to achieve without the approval of all permanent member states.


In light of this, we are faced with another fact, which is that international organizations do not have the ability to impose international sanctions except on certain countries. International history has never recorded a Security Council decision to impose a penalty on a permanent member state. Which brings us back to the same query about the reality and existence of international law.


In conclusion, it can be said that the existence of international law is something that contributes to organizing the international system and promoting stability, peace and justice among countries, and contributes to providing a legal framework for resolving international disputes and enhancing cooperation between countries in various fields such as human rights, humanitarian law, the environment, international trade, and conflicts, borders, maritime law, international criminal law, and others, though, this existence is still a dream that humanity has not reached.

The obstacle to achieving this legitimate humanitarian dream is the interference of considerations of economic and mili-tary interests in judging the nature of matters between countries, to the same extent that the charters and constitutions of international organizations lack a mechanism that authorizes them to impose sanctions on any of the permanent members of the Security Council when they violate international law.

The solution to remove this barrier can only be through an amendment to the Charter of the United Nations with special approval including the permanent member states, whereby it will be decided that the permanent member states will not have the right to vote in the Security Council if the resolution being voted on conflicts with their direct national interests, or whereby it will be decided to refer the parties to such resolution to a mandatory arbitration to settle whether or not the direct national interests of a certain country conflicts with the resolution. Otherwise, the entire world will continue to be managed – without law – by a handful of countries that have imposed their control only by force, until some other countries with greater force come to seize control of them, whereupon, no one will know where they will go in terms of establishing fair rules of international law.


[1] please review the United Nations’ Report