International Law of the United Nations

Given that there is no centralized means of enforcement, international law is meaningless. This essay discusses this, giving arguments both for and against it. What is meant by the phrase “international law”? International law consists of rules and principles which govern the relations and dealings of nations with each other. It concerns itself only with questions of rights between several nations and the citizens or subjects of other nations (Wex 2005). Regarding individuals, international laws put certain duties onto countries.

These laws can be violated in a number of ways, including treating a national of another country in a manner contradictory to the international standard of justice. In this way international law is not meaningless. However – and here is one instance where supporters of the statement that international law is meaningless get their grounding – in international affairs, an individual cannot lay the complaint. The only way for the complaint to be brought forward is via the individual’s own state before an international tribunal.

The state is usually in no way obligated to do this (Wex 2005) Individuals who feel unfairly treated in a foreign country has little or no legal power unless his own country gets involved – and that country is under no obligation to do so. What is the impact of the United Nations and other international organizations? The purpose of the United Nations is to maintain peace, ensure security, facilitate good relationships between countries, and enhance the possibility of cooperation between countries in the resolution of problems (Wex 2005).

So again an individual would only benefit from this through use of his country. In the declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples, the United Nations includes the following:  All peoples have an inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territory (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1960).

In some cases the national’s country may not be able or willing to help much. Australian Schappelle Corby was sentenced to 20 years in prison on 11 May 2005, after drugs were found in her boogie board in Indonesia – this despite prior and subsequent assurances by the Australian Government that they would do all they could to assist (Wikinews, 2006). Many Australians feel that the Government has rendered insufficient assistance, and indeed, in this case their options are severely limited.

According to Mr Steven Freeland, Senior lecturer in international law at the University of Western Sydney and visiting professional at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, a fundamental precept of international law is the 'sovereign equality' of countries. One country cannot impose its own legal standards or procedures on the legal system in another country. If this was not so, there would be no certainty as to the prevailing laws anywhere (UWS Latest News 2005). It appears Corby’s only recourse is to ask for clemency (and it may not be granted), which she refuses to do since this would mean admitting to the crime (Wikinews 2006).

Conclusion Based on the above information, the conclusion can be drawn that if assistance from his own country is refused, the individual person in a foreign country may be left without suitable recourse. Therefore international law can be effective when the powers that be choose to resort to it, but it is under severe limitations.


  • Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1960 “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” retrieved 3 May 2006 from the website