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Principles of Public International Law




Admission Requirements



What is the purpose of public international law and how does it work? Students will gain an insight into the topic by focusing on the objectives which public international law aims to achieve. Each week, students will be addressing a particular dimension of international law, whether in its functioning, or its goals, such as the prohibition of the use of force or 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).

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.

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” 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



Contact Information


Weekly Overview


Week 1
Lecture 1: Introductory Class
Lecture 2: A history of International Law
Week 2
Lecture 1: The Sources of International Law
Lecture 2: Subjects (I): the State
Week 3
Lecture 1: Subjects (II): International Organizations and the UN
Lecture 2: Subjects (III): New actors of international law?
Week 4
Lecture 1: Prohibition of the Use of force and Self Defense
Lecture 2: Humanitarian Intervention and Responsibility to Protect
Week 5:
Lecture 1: International Human Rights
Lecture 2: International Criminal Law
Week 6
Lecture 1: Immunities
Lecture 2: Climate Change
Week 7
Lecture 1: International Trade Law
Lecture 2: Final Exam

Preparation for first session