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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - AN OVERVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMANITARIAN LAW DEVELOPMENT AND THEIR PROTECTION MECHANISMS

Summary

In this section, we provide a brief overview of the historical and conceptual development of international human rights and humanitarian law. For the student of international human rights and humanitarian law, it is important to note the political, social, and economic conditions giving rise to the conception of international law and the definitional limits imposed by that conception. To this end, we sketch an outline of this development with certain extralegal themes in mind: the nation-state, war, and international transactions. In the next section, we provide an overview of the history, organization, and operation of present international human rights and humanitarian law mechanisms of protection.

The Historical and Conceptual Development of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

The “law of nations” (jus gentium) is now called “international law.” However, the phrase “international law” (jus inter gentes) is misleading because it falsely suggests a body of law that only governs relations between nations, and international human rights law most often governs intranational matters. Jus inter gentes is only a subset of the law of nations. Indeed, the phrase “international law” was not coined until 1780 by Jeremy Bentham. Further contributing to the unfortunate use of the word “international law” is that the word “nation” has become conflated with the meaning of “state,” suggesting falsely that international law does not protect and impose duties on a state's own nationals.

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