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International Customs

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According to Article 38(1) of the Statute of International Court of Justice, International Customs are recognized as an important source of International Law.

The Statute recognizes General Customs but in practice, Courts accept local or regional customs amongst a group or between two or more countries. Local customs may supplement or derogate from General Customs.

Peremptory Norm A Norm of general international law that is accepted and recognized by international community as a whole as a norm for which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character. (Jus cognes).

According to Article 53 of Vienna Convention, a treaty is void if it conflicts with Peremptory Norm.

A Valid Custom should be:

  • Reasonable
  • Conformity with Statute Law

Essential features of Customs

  • Reasonableness
  • Confirmatory with Statue Law
  • Uniformity
  • Immemorial antiquity (Long duration)

Sources of International Customs

  • Diplomatic relations between States
  • Practice of International organs
  • State laws, decisions of State Courts and State military or administrative practices
  • Treaties between States

Relationship with Usages

Usages are considered the first stage of custom. They mean a long established use of a matter, which States repeat to perform. Usages, on long usage, will become Custom.

Usages may conflict with one another. Customs do not.

Related Cases / Recent Cases / Case Laws

  • United Kingdom v Iceland; Germany v Iceland), ICJ Reports (1974), p. 3: Popularly known as the Fisheries Jurisdiction cases. It is a customary rule that States had the right to exclusive fishing within a twelve nautical mile zone, emerged from the practice of states.
  • Nicaragua v United States of America, ICJ Reports (1986), p. 14: For a usage to become custom, there must also be a general recognition by States that the practice is settled enough to amount to an obligation binding on States under international law. This is known as Opinio juris
  • North Sea Continental Shelf Case
  • Asylum Case
  • West Rand Central Gold Mining Co. Ltd
  • Anglo-Norwegian Fisheries Case

Related Legislation

  • Section 3(a) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 also defined 'custom'