Nature of International Law: Is International Law a Law?

28 Pages Posted: 28 May 2020 Last revised: 29 May 2020

See all articles by Dedefo Bedaso

Dedefo Bedaso

University of Cincinnati, College of Law

Date Written: April 29, 2020


The general understanding of law is that, it is ‘a body of rules’ or ‘social order’ that regulate the relations in human community, various entities, societal harmonization and individuals to govern their respective mutual understanding. The law defines and regulates societal relationships. It “is an element, the only one, by which we are able to differentiate definitely and successfully between a legal, moral and religious order.” It is a balancing technique of the rights and obligations of humans in their daily life. The term law is a “grand norm” and thus, a general concept replacing all kinds of “laws”; It could be municipal law of states such as civil law, criminal law, liberal law, business law, intellectual property law, economic law, feudal law, socialist law, law, medical law, land law, media law, etc. Municipal law is a domestic law, or name used in replace of the national, statutory, internal law or domestic law of states. It applies to nationals, body of politic and others within state in that limited territorial jurisdiction. The legislative organ of state has supreme power to enact and enforce such laws in the country. The municipal law of the state is usually limited in the scope to nations and regulates the domestic issues, international law is a beyond that. On the other hand, there are certain areas of law developed at international level. These are; private international Law, international human rights law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law, refugee law, international environmental law, international economic & trade law, international space law, and Islamic law [Sharia law] is among few to mention. Municipal law and international law share something communal (or have similar normative conducts as being a law and regulate certain acts). Laws, whether national or international are not permanent; it can be made, amended, reformed and altered at any time. There is no clear way to measure law, its purpose and identify clear line between them to develop a certain model for each of them. The question may arise does international law satisfy legal requirements or normative standards to be considered as [international] law? Some legal scholars and jurists argue ‘if international law can be entitled as a true law or not’. To know whether international law is a true law or not it is would be nice to know the nature and functions of international law. Those who accept the legality of international law consider it as a prefect law with similar footing as the municipal law. Is international law a law? Those who support this view says, it is law because it doesn’t have another name than to be considered as [international] law; it is law because it has a certain procedural and substantive rules to follow; it is a law because, it regulates certain international acts conducted worldwide; it is a law because municipal law is usually limited to a territorial jurisdiction and do not reach for international remedies; it is a law because world nations have something to use separately and to share communally based on general principles of international law; international law regulates the relationship between states, international organizations and individuals across the globe; international law is designed in its own way, applies among sovereign states, and usually applied by international tribunals; international laws are sometimes practiced in national courts, in foreign offices, in international organization offices, and in regional organization offices. Therefore, international law exists as a law, even as a perfect law. International law is a prefect legal system has yet to develop and it doesn’t have to be seen through the ‘eyeglass’ of the municipal law of the states. Thus, the purpose of this article is to elaborate the views regarding this issue and to forward different legal arguments. Under the following title, I have provided three topics. Opposing view, proponents, my take regarding these views and application of international law.

Keywords: International Law

Suggested Citation

Bedaso, Dedefo, Nature of International Law: Is International Law a Law? (April 29, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Dedefo Bedaso (Contact Author)

University of Cincinnati, College of Law ( email )

United States

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