Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Law of Nations Definition:

The body of rules that nations in the international community universally abide by, or accede to, out of a sense of legal obligation and mutual concern.

Related Terms: Customary International Law, International Law, State, Comity, Opinio Juris

In Vietnam Victims of Agent Orange, Justice Miner wrote:

"In the broader context, the law of nations has become synonymous with the term customary international law, which describes the body of rules that nations in the international community universally abide by, or accede to, out of a sense of legal obligation and mutual concern.

"In ascertaining whether a rule constitutes a norm of customary international law, courts have traditionally consulted the works of jurists, writing professedly on public law; or by the general usage and practice of nations; or by judicial decisions recognizing and enforcing that law.

"Sources of international law generally include international conventions, whether general or particular, establishing rules expressly recognized by the contesting states; international custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law; the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations; (and) judicial decisions and the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations, as subsidiary means for the determination of the rules of law....

"While not exhaustive, the list of principles that may be said to have ripened into universally accepted norms of international law, includes the proscriptions against piracy, slave trade, attacks on or hijacking of aircraft, genocide, and war crimes.

"With respect to other types of violations, because customary international law is created by the general customs and practices of nations and therefore does not stem from any single, definitive, readily-identifiable source, we have advised district courts to exercise extraordinary care and restraint in deciding whether an offense will violate a customary norm."

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