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Sovereignty and Statehood




Admission requirements


Course description

The course aims to expose students to the key concepts of statehood and sovereignty, enabling them to develop independent and well-founded opinions on the central questions of contemporary international law. We will begin with the history of statehood, including issues emerging from colonialism and de-colonization, in order to set the stage for an in-depth exploration of developments in today’s current affairs. The lectures will introduce issues such as the legal personality of states, the international recognition of emerging states, state immunity, and state liability for internationally wrongful acts. Through student-lead learning assignments and a take-home exam, students will learn to engage meaningfully with the underlying issues which repeatedly cause the functional paralysis of the international community, including the UN Security Council, in situations of armed conflict.

Weekly overview

Week 1 – Sovereignty and Statehood in a Historical Context
Session 1: Introductory Session and Expectations
Session 2: Key Concepts in the History of Statehood and Sovereignty

Week 2 – Modern Conceptions of Statehood
Session 1: Legal Personality of States
Session 2: International Treaties & Customary International Law

Week 3 – Sovereignty and State Boundaries
Session 1: International Governance: The UN System & The Use of Force
Session 2: Regional Governance: Introducing the European Union

Week 4 – Colonialism, De-Colonization & Statehood
Session 1: Colonial Legacies & the Persistent Challenges of De-Colonization
Session 2: Case Study: Imposed Borders in Africa & the Middle East

Week 5 – The Complexities of Recognition: Secession & Self-Determination
Session 1: Changes in the Geo-political Landscape
Session 2: Case Study: New States & Loss of Statehood

Week 6 – Attribution & Accountability
Session 1: State Immunity and Violations of Human Rights
Session 2: Case Study: Extraterritorial Jurisdiction

Week 7 – Politics of Piercing Sovereignty
Session 1: Sovereignty & International Intervention
Session 2: Wrapping Up

Week 8 – Reading Week
Term Paper Due

Learning objectives

After successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • better understand the role of statehood and sovereignty in international law

  • appreciate the ramifications of changes in geopolitical landscapes

  • identify relevant legal limitations on political decision making practices

  • engage in legal reasoning and writing

  • analyze international treaties and judgments

  • develop and present sophisticated arguments in a succinct and coherent manner

Mode of instruction

Weekly lectures and case studies.

This course consists of fourteen two-hour sessions (two sessions per week, for seven weeks).

The sessions will include lecturing to introduce the key concepts and philosophical dilemmas highlighted by the course, but will also rely on meaningful class participation in order to delve deeper into the issues raised in assigned materials, which students are expected to come to class prepared to discuss.


In-class participation, 10% (Ongoing Weeks 1-7)
Presentation, 20% (once in Weeks 2-7)
Reflection papers on case studies, 30% (One submitted from Weeks 4, 5, or 6)
Final take-home exam, 40% (Reading Week)

Compulsory literature

Malcolm N. Shaw, International Law (6th edition), CUP 2008.

Other materals will be made available through Blackboard.

Contact information