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UOL Public International Law

Public International Law is a comprehensive field that governs the legal relations between sovereign states and other international actors. This module covers a wide range of topics that form the foundation and application of international legal principles. Here is an overview of each topic typically covered in this module.


This foundational segment introduces Public International Law, outlining its purpose and significance. It sets the stage for understanding how this body of law regulates interactions among states, international organisations, and, in certain cases, individuals, ensuring cooperation and respect for international norms and standards.

Nature of International Law

This topic delves into the characteristics that define international law, differentiating it from domestic law. It discusses the principle of consent, which underlies international legal obligations, and the role of sovereignty, emphasising the voluntary compliance of states with international norms due to the decentralised nature of the international legal system.

Sources of International Law

An exploration of the foundations of international law, focusing on its primary sources: treaties, customary international law, general principles of law recognised by civilised nations, and as subsidiary means, judicial decisions and the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists.

Sovereignty and Statehood

This section examines the concepts of sovereignty—a state's authority over its territory and independence—and the criteria for statehood, including a permanent population, defined territory, government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

International Personality

International personality discusses which entities are recognised as having rights and obligations under international law, extending beyond sovereign states to include international organisations, and under certain conditions, individuals and non-state actors.


Jurisdiction covers the legal authority of states to regulate behaviours or enforce rules, focusing on territorial, nationality, protective, and universal principles, and highlighting the limits of state power in a global context.


This topic explores the principle of immunity, which protects states, their officials, and international organisations from legal proceedings in foreign courts, detailing the scope and limits of such immunities to ensure diplomatic relations and functional international cooperation.

Law of Treaties

An in-depth look at the formal agreements that govern international relations, detailing the processes of formation, interpretation, application, amendment, and termination of treaties, guided by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.


Self-determination examines the right of peoples to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status without external compulsion or interference, a principle pivotal to the decolonisation process and ongoing territorial disputes.


Decolonisation reviews the historical movement for independence in territories under colonial rule, focusing on the legal and political processes that facilitated the emergence of new sovereign states post-World War II.


Secession discusses the conditions under which a region or group within a state can declare independence and form a new state, including the legal, political, and ethical considerations surrounding such movements.

Law of Sea

The law of the sea outlines the rules governing the use of the world’s oceans and seas, addressing navigation rights, territorial waters, exclusive economic zones, and the management of marine resources, as codified in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

International Court of Justice

This topic explores the role and functions of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the judicial arm of the United Nations, in settling legal disputes between states and issuing advisory opinions on international legal questions.

Peaceful Settlement of Disputes

Peaceful settlement of disputes covers the mechanisms and principles for resolving conflicts between states without resorting to force, including negotiation, mediation, inquiry, and conciliation, emphasising the importance of diplomacy and international law in maintaining global peace.

International Arbitration

International arbitration examines the process by which states or private parties resolve disputes through the decision of impartial arbitrators rather than through national courts or political negotiations, highlighting its growing role in international investment and trade disputes.

Use of Force

This section addresses the legal restrictions on the use of force in international relations, as established by the United Nations Charter and customary international law, including the prohibition of aggression and the conditions under which force may be used.

Collective Action

Collective action discusses the legal framework for international cooperation in responding to threats to peace and security, including peacekeeping operations and sanctions, under the auspices of international organisations like the United Nations.


Self-defence delves into the conditions under which a state may lawfully use force in response to an armed attack, based on Article 51 of the UN Charter, examining the criteria of necessity and proportionality in the context of self-defence.

Humanitarian Intervention

Humanitarian intervention explores the contentious issue of using force for humanitarian purposes, without the host state’s consent, to prevent or stop widespread human rights abuses, discussing its legal, moral, and political implications.

Responsibility to Protect

Responsibility to Protect (R2P) focuses on the international community's duty to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, examining the principles and controversies surrounding intervention and sovereignty.

Human Rights

Human rights cover the fundamental rights and freedoms that all individuals are entitled to, regardless of nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status, as recognised in international law.

International Bill of Human Rights

This topic reviews the core documents that constitute the International Bill of Human Rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, along with their optional protocols.

Regional Human Rights Protection

Regional human rights protection examines the systems established by different regions, such as Europe, the Americas, and Africa, to protect human rights, highlighting the European Convention on Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court (ICC) discusses the court's role in prosecuting individuals for international crimes such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression, emphasising its jurisdiction and the principle of complementarity.

Issues of International Law

This concluding topic addresses contemporary challenges and developments in international law, including terrorism, environmental protection, cyber warfare, and the evolving landscape of international economic law, reflecting on how international law adapts to the changing global context.

This module provides a thorough grounding in the principles, institutions, and practices of Public International Law, equipping students with the knowledge to navigate and critically analyse the legal aspects of international relations and global governance.

Check out our exam-focused Public International Law notes now.

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