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Introduction to Public International Law


Admission requirements

There are no prerequisites to this course. This course gives access to higher level courses in Global Justice.


What is the purpose of public international law? Students will gain an insight into the topic by focusing on the objectives which public international law aims to achieve. Each week another problem which international law attempts to remedy (including ‘war’, ‘terrorism’, ‘discrimination’ or ‘poverty’) or a goal which it aims to achieve (including ‘equality’, ‘the rule of law’ or ‘sustainable development’) will be discussed. For each of these topics, 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).

Course objectives

After successful completion of this introductory course, students will know the basics of public international law: they will have studied its paradigms, they will understand the specific language used, they will have an insight in its major theories, and they will have practised various methods to acquire further knowledge. Students will learn to take a position concerning certain contentious issues related to public international law and 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 −to a basic level− apply the rules and concepts of public international law. Although the students will be mainly trained in understanding the field of public international law, they will also be prepared for further study beyond this level, focused on applying the law, as further elaborated upon in the course of the Global Justice major.


Please see the LUC website: www.lucthehague.nl

Mode of instruction

Week 1 will consist of two structured lectures of 45 minutes each. From Week 2 each class will start with a structured 45 min. interactive lecture on a specific problem or goal addressed by public international law (as outlined in the ‘Content’ section above). In preparation for this part of the class, students will need 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 towards 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 occasionally shift during the second half of the session, during which the students themselves will give presentations and hold debates. This will take place in two formats: the first format consists of a ‘Chatham House’ type of debate, whereby students will have to argue in favour of, respectively against, statements related to public international law. Examples of such statements may include “the UN is necessary”, “Kosovo is a state” and “an international court should be established to deal with piracy”.

Assessment method

  1. Interactive engagement with course material: assessed through In-class participation (10% of final grade):Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7
  2. Developing legal writing skills and arguments: assessed through Take-home essay (10% of final grade) and In-class essay (20% of final grade): Weeks 5 and 6
  3. Formulating legal argument: assessed in Oral Debates (20% of final grade) Weeks 2 – 5
  4. Expression of holistic understanding of the course: assessed in Final examination (40% of final grade): Week 8


This course is supported by a BlackBoard site

Reading list

The main textbook will be the “Handbook of International Law” by Anthony Aust (CUP 2010). Students will also be required to use “Blackstone’s Statutes − International Law Documents” (OUP 2009). Furthermore, students might also be introduced to specific topics via the reading of entries in the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (available online). Other materials may include accessible legal articles from international law journals, including, the International and Comparative Law Quarterly (ICLQ), the European Journal of International Law (EJIL) and the Cambridge Law Journal (CLJ).

Articles will be placed on Blackboard about a week in advance of each lecture.


This course is only open for LUC The Hague students.

Contact information

dr. Mia Swart. M.swart@luc.leidenuniv.nl

Weekly Overview

Week 1
Lecture 1: Introductory Class I (Explanation of the course aims; content; teaching methods; assessment systems; discussion of expectations on the side of students and lecturer)

Lecture 2: Introductory Class II

(Explanation of sources of International Law; basic concepts; how international law differs from municipal law; international courts and tribunals)

Week 2
Lecture 1: Peace
Lecture 2: War

Week 3
Lecture 1: Self- Defence & Terrorism
Lecture 2: Self-Determination

Week 4
Lecture 1: Equality
Lecture 2: Non Discrimination

Week 5
Lecture 1: Immunitites
Lecture 2: Terrorism & Human Rights

Week 6
Lecture 1: Guest Lecturer
Lecture 2: Sustainable Development

Week 7
Lecture 1: Poverty
Lecture 2: Final Exam