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Ethics and International Law

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 April 2010


This article, based on a lecture offered in honour of Professor Cleveringa, provides some insights into the difficult question of ‘unjust laws’ and the place of ethics in law, with an emphasis on international law. While this question has long been a bone of contention between natural lawyers and positivists, it has a particular importance in international law. Attention is paid to the role of ethics in the context of non-discrimination and armed conflicts.

Copyright © Foundation of the Leiden Journal of International Law 2010

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1 G. Radbruch, Gesamtausgabe, ed. Arthur Kaufmann, Vol. 3 (Rechtsphilosophie III) (1990), 78 ff.

2 H. A. Hart, Essays in Jurisprudence and Philosophy (1983), 76. For an informed analysis, see Miguel Galvao Teles, ‘Ex Post Justice, Legal Retrospection, and Claim to Bindingness’, in Augusto Silva Dias et al. (eds.), Liber Amicorum de Jose de Sousa e Brito (2009), 425.

3 Certain German Interests in Polish Upper Silesia (Germany v. Poland), PCIJ Rep. Series A No. 7.

4 Rights of Minorities in Upper Silesia (Minority Schools) (Germany v. Poland), PCIJ Rep. Series A No. 15, at 17.

5 395/1990 (Spenger v. The Netherlands); 172/1984 (Broeks v. The Netherlands); 180/1984 (Danning v. The Netherlands); 182/1984 (Zwaan-de Vries v. The Netherlands).

6 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 US 265 (1978). See also Johnson v. Transp. Agency, Santa Clara County, 480 US 616 (1987) (on employment); Wygant v. Jackson Bd. of Educ., 476 US 267 (1986); United Steelworkers of Am. v. Weber, 443 US 193 (1979) (in the context of employment); Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 US 306 (2003) (on race generally as a factor in admissions).

7 ICJ Reports 1996, para. 78.

8 ICJ Reports 2005, para. 178.

9 ICJ Reports 2005, para. 179.

10 Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, UN Doc. A/63/677, 12 January 2009, esp. paras. 6–7.

11 Francis M. Deng et al., Sovereignty as Responsibility: Conflict Management in Africa (1996).

12 Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility to Protect (2001), vii.

13 High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, UN Doc. A/59/565 and Corr.1, 2 December 2004; In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All, UN Doc. A/59/2005, 21 March 2005.

14 Report of the Secretary-General, ‘Implementing the Responsibility to Protect’, UN Doc. A/63/677, January 2009, para. 10.