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Principles of Public International Law




Admission requirements


Course description

What is public international law and how does it work? Each week, students will be addressing a particular dimension of international law, such as the prohibition on the use of force and the protection of human rights. For each topic, students will learn to work with the relevant formal sources (treaties, customary law and general principles), the material sources (case law and jurisprudence) and any other sources which are relevant (resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly, decisions of international organisations, unilateral declarations of States).

Weekly overview

Week 1
Lecture 1: Introduction
Lecture 2: Legal Methods
Week 2
Lecture 1: The Sources of International Law
Lecture 2: Treaties
Week 3
Lecture 1: Subjects (I): The State and Self-Determination
Lecture 2: Subjects (II): International Organizations and the UN
Week 4
Lecture 1: State Responsibility
Lecture 2: International Settlement of Disputes
Week 5
Lecture 1: Prohibition on the Use of Force
Lecture 2: Jurisdiction
Week 6
Lecture 1: Immunities
Lecture 2: Human Rights
Week 7
Lecture 1: International Criminal Law
Lecture 2: Recap Session
Week 8

Learning objectives

After successful completion of this introductory course, students will have a basic understanding of public international law, including the sources of law in this field (in particular customary international law and treaty law), and the law of state responsibility. The students will also gain a basic understanding of some particular subject areas in the international legal field, including human rights law and international criminal law. Students will learn how to take positions concerning certain contentious issues in public international law and to defend them, by means of legal reasoning, in a debate with fellow students. In the final exam, students will be individually tested on their ability to understand, explain, and apply the rules and concepts of public international law. Although the students will focus on understanding the field of public international law, they will also be prepared for further studies within the International Justice major.

Mode of instruction

Classes will consist of both interactive lectures as well as debates between small groups of students. Students are required to have read the relevant section of the textbook (see ‘Literature’ section below) as well as the additional reading materials which students will be able to download from the e-learning environment. Throughout the course, guest lecturers may be invited so that students can become acquainted with different approaches to the subject-matter.

While during the first half of the class the initiative is taken by the lecturer and the students are invited (and expected) to participate, the focus will sometimes shift during the second half of the session, during which the students themselves will give presentations and hold debates. Students will have to argue in favour of, or against, statements related to public international law. Examples of such statements may include “the UN is necessary” or “Kosovo is a state”.


Assessment: In-class participation
Learning aim: Interactive engagement with course materials
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1-7

Assessment: Take-home essay/casenote
Learning aim: Developing legal writing skills
Percentage: 30%
Deadline: Week 6

Assessment: Oral Debates
Learning aim: Formulating legal arguments
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Weeks 2-6

Assessment: Final examination
Learning aim: Comprehensive understanding of the course
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8

Compulsory textbook

Jan Klabbers, International Law (Cambridge University Press 2013).