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School of Law

Foundations of international law

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Term 1

The half unit course running in Term 1 provides important introductory material for students who do not have a background in international law and wish to take other international law units at SOAS.

The course uses the SOAS Law Department undergraduate Public International Law lectures to introduce the basic concepts and practices which form the foundations of public international law. These lectures are presented with specific attention to the impact, influence and development of public international law in the African and Asian contexts.

Mainstream narratives which emerge from the West are challenged through the use of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) and other contemporary critical theories. Students are encouraged to study the mainstream approaches and representations of these laws alongside alternative conceptions and influences.

The syllabus is as follows: 

Week 1: Introduction to Public International Law – Histories and Theories 
Week 2: Sources of International Law I 
Week 3: Sources of International Law II 
Week 4: International Legal Personality (States) 
Week 5: International Legal Personality (Non-states and other international entities) 
Week 7: International Institutions 
Week 8: The Relationship between International and Domestic Law 
Week 9: Jurisdiction and Immunity 
Week 10: State Responsibility I 
Week 11: State Responsibility II/ Recent Developments

The students will also be expected to attend a weekly seminar (separate from undergraduate tutorials) where they will have to demonstrate understanding of the weekly topic through the discussion of a relevant contemporary journal article or group of articles.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  1. To introduce students to the foundations of international law.
  2. To introduce the students to different issues and contemporary developments in international law
  3. To provide knowledge of how international law is formed and applied through the development of customary international law, treaty law and the work of international organisations.
  4. To explain the relationship between theoretical perspectives on international law, the behaviour of states and the development of international legal norms, as well as the role of international institutions.
  5. To develop the student’s critical thinking skills
  6. To encourage reflection on shifting trends and practices in international law.
Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course the students should be able to:

  1. Identify and describe the foundational concepts in Public International Law (for example, international sources, the role of sovereignty, the impact of international institutions, jurisdiction, state responsibility) with special reference to issues relevant to Asia and Africa.
  2. Compare and appraise the role of different theoretical approaches in understandings of Public International Law
  3. Discuss recent developments in Public International Law and demonstrate an understanding of their broader impact on the topic as a whole.
  4. Arrange the knowledge in (1) to (3), above, into coherent responses to an exam based assessment.


This course runs annually in Term 1: Students will attend one 2-hour lecture per week over 10 weeks

Method of assessment

Assessment Weighting: 100% unseen written examination

Suggested reading

Key texts:
  • Boyle and Chinkin, The Making of International Law, Oxford, 2007
  • Charlesworth and Chinkin, The Boundaries of International Law, Manchester, 2000
  • Evans, International Law Documents, 8th Ed, 2007
  • Evans (ed), International Law, 2006
  • Harris, Cases and Materials on International Law, Sweet & Maxwell, 2004.
  • Higgins, Problems and Process: International Law and How We Use It, Oxford, 1994
  • Brownlie, The Principles of Public International Law, 8th edition
  • Franck, Fairness in International Law and Institutions, 1995
  • Malanczuk, Akehurst’s Modern Introduction to International Law, 7th edition 1997
Additional Texts/ Readings:
  • Anghie ‘Finding the Peripheries: Sovereignty and Colonialism in Nineteenth Century International Law’ 40 Harvard International Law Journal (1999) 1
  • Best, Geoffrey, War and Law Since 1945 Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994.
  • Berman, ‘In the Wake of Empire’ 14 American University International Law Review 1515 (1999) at 1521
  • Brownlie, International Law and the Use of Force by States, 1963
  • Cassese, International Law, 2001.
  • Charlesworth, ‘International Law: A Discipline of Crisis’ 65 (3) Modern Law Review 2002, 377
  • Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law, OUP, (2nd Edition), 2006
  • Crawford and Olleson, ‘The Continuing Debate on a UN Convention on State Responsibility’ 45 (4) International and Comparative Law Quarterly 959, (2005)
  • Drew, 'The East Timor Story: International Law on Trial' 12 (4) European Journal of International Law 2001,651.
  • Franck, Recourse to Force, Cambridge, 2003
  • Gowlland-Debbas (ed) United Nations Sanctions and International Law, Kluwer, 2001d ed, 2004.
  • Gray, Case Concerning the Arrest Warrant of 11th April 2000 (DRC v Belgium) 13 (3) European Journal International Law 2002, 721
  • Higgins, Problems and Processes: International Law and How We Use It, Oxford, 1995
  • Koskenniemni, From Apology to Utopia, Cambridge, 2005 (re-issue).
  • Koskenniemi, ‘The Place of Law in Collective Security’ 17 Michigan Journal of International Law, 255, 1996
  • Koskenniemi‘The Politics of International Law’ 1 EJIL (1990), 4
  • Lillich, Humanitarian Intervention and the United Nations, University Press of Virginia, 1973
  • Lang, Just Intervention, Georgetown University Press, 2003
  • McDougal and Feliciano, Law and Minimum World Public Order: The Legal Regulation of International Coercion, Yale, 1961
  • Mgbeoji, Collective Insecurity, UBC Press, 2003.
  • Ratner and Slaughter (eds), Symposium on Method in International Law, 93 AJIL, 1999, 291
  • Reisman and Andrea Armstrong, ‘The Past and Future of the Claim of Pre-emptive Self-defence’ 100 (3) American Journal of International Law, 2006, 525
  • Schachter, International Law in Theory and Practice, Nihoff, 1991
  • Simma, Bruno (ed). The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, 1994.
  • Szazs, ‘The Security Council Starts Legislating’ 96 (4) American Journal of International Law, 2002, 901
  • Weiss, ‘Invoking State Responsibility in the Twenty-First Century’ 96 (4) American Journal of International Law, 2002, 798