International Law Dissertation Topic Examples

1. In determining whether or not there exists a threat to the peace, a breach of the peace, or an act of aggression, the Security Council enjoys considerably broad discretionary powers. Discuss.

It is undisputed that the Security Council's discretionary power to determine whether a threat to or breach of the peace exists is considerably broad. The same conclusion applies to the measures and actions available to the SC when responding to such threats or breaches of the peace. A large amount of literature attacks the vagueness of the provisions of the UN Charter and the unfettered power such vagueness permits. This study examines the apparent extensive powers of the SC when acting under Chapter VII of the Charter in comparison to other UN institutions. Are the powers of the SC as unlimited as most assume or are its powers varied in practice? Do mechanisms exist to restrict the SC's powers in reality, and do its powers need to be restricted as such? The extent of the powers of the SC will be examined in relation to Chapter VII of the Charter to ultimately conclude that the SC's apparent free reign is in practice limited by a number of political concepts.

Suggested reading

  • Alvarez, JE 1996. 'Judging the Security Council', American Journal of International Law, vol. 90, no. 1.
  • De Wet, E 2004. The Chapter VII Powers of the United Nations Security Council, Portland Oregon: Hart Publishing.
  • Frowein, J & Krisch, N 2002. 'Article 39' in B Simma (ed.), The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, 2nd edn, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Luck, EC 2006. UN Security Council: Practice and Promise, Oxon: Routledge.

2. The Self-Determination of Minorities in the Light of Globalization.

An almost unlimited number of historical events and concepts lead most to assume that self-determination of minorities is likely to become a popular tendency of world political developments. Globalization indeed dictates the need for people to acquire equality and thus self-determination as co-existing concepts. For multi-ethnic states at least, the right to self-determination is paramount. This study recognizes that as different cultures reside with one another, the tendency to self-determine increases along with the need to preserve certain diminishing cultures. Yet granting too much protection to such minorities has the potential to harm others; good will is thus limited towards such groups. A central concern of international law is that of self-determination, succession and minority rights. How has it dealt with these concepts and has it managed to balance the interests of all concerned? The study will question whether minorities can be self-determined; as the research shows, the question is not as straightforward as one would primarily like to assume.

Suggested Reading

  • Moore, M 1998. National Self-Determination and Secession, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Shaw, M 2002. International Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Franck, TM 2002. Fairness in International Law and Institutions, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Thornberry, P 1987. Minorities and Human Rights Law, Report No. 73, London: Minority Rights Group.

3. Peace Operations in Burundi from a UN Perspective: Ensuring Peace or Facilitating Power?

The intervention of the UN in Burundi was generally deemed as a relatively successful peace operation. Yet the passing of time has revealed more critical observations to emerge. The UN's peace operation in Burundi was short-sighted, yet on a longer timeframe period the intervention was more unsuccessful than anything else. This study will examine why it was unsuccessful, the consequences of the peace operation, and question whether these can be remedied. The operation will be used as a future reference tool for other potential peace operations so that the same mistakes are not made. Ultimately, the events of the Burundi peace operation demonstrate that 'peace' is an on-going concept which requires long-term planning and better constructed UN peace-building initiatives.

  • Dayton, BW & Kriesberg, L 2009. Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding: Moving from Violence to Sustainable Peace, New York: Routledge.
  • Baregu, M 2011. Understanding Obstacles to Peace, Kampala: Fountain.
  • Boshoff, H & Very, W 2006. A Technical Analysis of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration: A Case Study from Burundi, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.
  • Darby, J & MacGinty, R 2003. Contemporary Peacemaking: Conflict, Violence and Peace Processes, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

4. According to the 2001 International Law Commission's Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, what are the legal consequences of breaches of peremptory norms of general international law and who can invoke them?

The ILC's Articles on State Responsibility have been marked as highly controversial. Intended to construct a framework of regulations for dealing with internationally wrongful acts, the Commission's distinction between breaches of international obligations and peremptory norms have proven problematic. This study will examine the distinction between breaches of obligations and peremptory norms in the context of erga omnes and jus cogens. The study will ultimately lead to the conclusion that the broad and informal rules on state responsibility are actually beneficial for an array of reasons.

Suggested Reading

  • Crawford, J 2002. The International Law Commission's Articles on State responsibility: Introduction, text and Commentaries, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Klein, P 2002. 'Responsibility for Serious Breaches of Obligations Deriving from Peremptory Norms of International Law and United Nations Law', European Journal of International Law, vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 1241-1255.
  • McCorquodale, R & Simons, P 2007. 'Responsibility Beyond Borders: State Responsibility for Extraterritorial Violations by Corporations of International Human Rights Law', Modern Law Review, vol. 70, no. 4, pp. 598-625.
  • Weiss, EB 2002. 'Invoking State Responsibility in the Twenty-First Century', American Journal of International Law, vol. 96, no. 798, pp. 798-816.

5. 'There is no international legislation laying down detailed rules concerning the creation of States. Yet, on careful analysis, it is possible to infer from the body of customary international rules granting basic rights and duties to States that these rules presuppose certain general characteristics in the entities to which they address themselves'. Discuss.

It is commonly recognised that a state is defined by the existence of population, territory and sovereignty. The latter concept particularly has attached to it the important notion of independence. Independence in turn grants a state competence to conduct external and internal affairs free from the legal authority of any other state. Despite these assumptions, no standard definition exists for the term 'state'; the definition is rather determined by a set of criteria. Yet are such criteria sufficient for the purposes of international law, the basis of which depends entirely upon the notion of statehood? This study will state and assess the criteria required to establish statehood, conducting an in-depth discussion on the elements of recognition. The evaluation will ultimately seek to determine whether the existence of states can be accurately set out according to the criteria, or whether a standard definition of statehood is required.

Suggested Reading

  • Shaw, MN 2008. International Law, 6th edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Crawford, J 2006. The Creation of States in International Law', 2nd edn, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Kohen, MG 2006. Secession: International Law Perspectives, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

6. Critically explore the relationship between international and national law.

The relationship between international and national law is indeed a majorly fascinating yet complex topic. Legal theory dictates that each individual state is equal and sovereign, yet reality demonstrates that not even the most powerful of states are able to remain entirely sovereign. The inevitable conflict between national and international rules has introduced the need for international tribunals to decide upon which rules are to prevail. How is the balance between the need to preserve international rules and the need to refrain from invalidating national law maintained? This study will explore this perplexing issue, evaluating the complex relationship between international and national law, particularly in instances of conflict. How do international institutions deal with conflicts and how can harmony between international and national law be achieved? Existing theories on this fascinating relationship will be assessed in order to reach a concise and convincing conclusion.

Suggested Reading

  • Besson, S 2011. 'Sovereignty, International Law and Democracy', European Journal of International Law, vol. 22, no. 2.
  • Dixon, M 2009. Textbook on International Law, 6th edn, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Evans, M 2008. International Law, 2nd edn, New York: Oxford University Press.

7. Critically examine the role of custom and general principles in the development of international criminal law.

It is common practice for the codes and statutes of any judicial system to provide guidelines as to how criminal cases should be dealt with. Yes this was not always the case; customary laws and customs based upon the individual outlooks of a society once played an important role in dealing with offenders. These were gradually shaped into concrete statutory rules. The international legal community was posed with the same ancient problem, yet in modern times. How international law took individual state approaches to crime and developed them into overarching rules is the potent topic to be explored in this study. How did customs and general principles form the basis for international criminal laws? How influential were customs and general principles in the development of international criminal law? It will ultimately be demonstrated that customs and general principles played a valuable role, for they are the most appropriate norms to be applied in cases where substantive law is inconclusive.

Suggested Reading

  • Cassese, A 2008. International Criminal Law, 2nd edn, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Werle, G 2009. Principles of International Criminal Law, 2nd edn, London: Asser Press.
  • Kunz, JL 1953. 'The Nature of Customary International Law', American Journal of International Law, vol. 47, no.4.
  • Degan, VD 2005. On the Sources of International Criminal Law, New York: Oxford University Press.

8. International human rights and reservations to multilateral treaties: critically examine the Human Rights Committee's approach in the light of the general international law relating to the reservations to treaties.

A reservation is commonly defined as a State's exclusion or modification of certain or all provisions of a treaty. The past century has questioned whether reservations to multilateral human rights treaties should be approached in the same manner as reservations to general multilateral treaties. The International Court of Justice adopts the view that the reservation regime should be the same in both cases. The European Court of Human Rights however disagrees, stating that the specific nature of human rights treaties requires rules that are less general than those applied to classic multilateral treaties. This study will critically examine this topic, particularly in light of the approach of the Human Rights Committee to reservations to treaties. How does the classical regime function in terms of human rights treaties and how can this be better suited to reservations on such treaties? Is an alternative approach indeed necessary? The study will ultimately seek to achieve a suitable balance between the need to provide a certain degree of flexibility in order to encourage participation and the importance of maintaining the integrity of human rights treaties.

Suggested Reading

  • De Schutter, O 2010. International Human Rights Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Steiner, HJ, Alston, P & Goodman, R 2008. International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics and Morality, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Schabas, WA 1994. 'Reservations to Human Rights Treaties: Time for Innovation and Reform', Canadian Yearbook of International Law, vol. 12, no. 42.

9. International Law and Jus Cogens Norms: Identifying jus cogens, what determines the status of a norm and will more ever be formed?

International law characteristically is comprised of the wills of collective sovereign states and thus lacks the formal structure enjoyed by national jurisdictions. States have thus recognised that certain specific norms exist which must be observed by all. Such norms are categorised as mandatory jus cogens norms and modifiable jus dispositivum norms. This study will focus upon jus cogens norms; norms so basic and broadly known that they are binding across humanity and cannot be derogated from. Yet how are norms categorised as mandatory? What is it that they possess which grants them such high status? The study will argue that, rather than the content of these norms, it is the special agreement on the fundamental norms which gives them their jus cogens status. It is the concept of special agreement which transforms the derogation from norms from subjective to objective illegality. Although there are few jus cogens norms as of yet, this does not preclude the possibility that new jus cogens norms will be developed as certain rights are given greater importance.

Suggested Reading

  • Bantekas, I 2010. International Criminal Law, 4th edn, Oxford: Hart Publishing.
  • Lauterpacht, H 1950. International law and Human Rights, London: Stevens and Sons.
  • Orakhelashvili, A 2006. Peremptory Norms in International law, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Danilenko,GM 1991. 'International Jus Cogens: Issues of Law Making', European Journal of International Law, vol. 2, no. 42.

10. The settlement of international disputes by peaceful means.

It is widely accepted that relations between nations are not entirely safe from unrest or dispute. Wisdom dictates that in times of dispute, the most desirable response is to find a peaceful and amicable solution so as to preclude the possibility of violence. Yet which mechanisms have been set in place to ensure the settling of international disputes by peaceful means? How effective are such mechanisms at settling such disputes and what lessons does history have to offer about the improvements that need to be made? This study will explore this issue, examining the core mechanisms for settling disputes, accompanied by an evaluation of their effectiveness and weaknesses.

Suggested Reading

  • Merrills, JG 2011. International Dispute Settlement, 5th edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Collier, J & Lowe, V 1999. The Settlement of Disputes in International Law: Institutions and Procedures, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Evans, M 2010. International Law, 3rd edn, New York: Oxford University Press.