States as international legal actors enjoy international legal personality, which includes the right to seek redress for an international wrong and also to be held accountable for an internationally wrongful act. Clearly a State can only commit an internationally wrongful act in international law through individuals or entities acting on its behalf, or through being responsible for such conduct. Two elements are therefore essential for invoking State responsibility:
(a)The existence of an international legal obligation between States. This obligation may originate from treaty, customary international law, general principles of law, or any other recognised source of international law.
(b)That the conduct of a State, including persons and entities for which the State is responsible, has resulted in an internationally wrongful act that has caused loss or damage to another State.
The consequences that follow a finding of State responsibility for an internationally wrongful act are significant and fundamental to international law. As observed by the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) in the Chorzów Factory Case: ‘it is a principle of international law, and even a general conception of law, that any breach of an engagement involves an obligation to make reparation’.
The content of the international law rules on State responsibility gradually evolved throughout the 20th century. In 1969 the International Law Commission (ILC) began working on the topic of State responsibility, during which time ‘Draft Articles’ were prepared in the expectation that a Convention would eventually be negotiated. The ILC's work proceeded through a number of drafts, a name change, and significant debate within both the ILC and the international legal community on the legal rules that were proposed. Eventually on 9 August 2001 the ILC adopted the Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts. While often referred to as the ‘Draft Articles’, reflecting the lengthy process of ILC deliberation over various drafts across nearly three decades, following the noting of the ILC's work by the UN General Assembly in December 2001 the term ‘Draft Articles’ is no longer widely used. Nevertheless, the Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (ILC Articles), while having the appearance of a treaty, are unlikely to ever become fully endorsed as part of a convention on State responsibility primarily due to a lack of impetus for such a development among States.