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Subjects of International Law

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In International Law, a Subject is a member of a State in relation to his Government or owing allegiances to a sovereign or other ruler, or member of a State except the Sovereign himself. All people residing in a country are the subjects of that country.

Theories on Subjects in International Law

According to International Law, there are three theories on the concept of subject:

  • States alone are subjects of International Law
  • Individuals alone are subjects of International Law
  • States, Individuals and certain non-state entities are subjects of International Law

Realistic Theory: States alone are subjects of International Law

  • According to this theory, the States alone are subjects of International Law and that individuals are not subjects.
  • This is a traditional theory
  • The International Court of Justice treats States, because they are sovereign political entities, alone as subjects.
  • Corbett supports this theory
  • States are entitles who can be legally distinguished from individual human beings who compose them.
  • States are subjects of International Law. Individual people are objects of it.
  • Individuals lack any judicial personality under International Law because they do not have rights or duties under it.
  • Disadvantage
    • Does not address the issue of slavery, pirates etc.
    • Theory is felt to be inadequate

Fictional Theory: Individuals alone are subjects of International Law

  • This theory is proposed because the former theory failed to address the issues of slavery, pirates etc.
  • Kelsen and Westlake supports this theory.
  • League of Nations supports this theory.
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of other States etc. are examples for the recognition of individuals in international law.
  • Pirates, Espionage etc. are always considered as 'Objects' and are held responsible for their illegal acts.

Related Cases

  • Eichmann Case

Functional Theory: States, Individuals and certain non-state entities are subjects of International Law

  • According to this, legal functionality is given to those who have the capability to perform legal functions internationally.
  • This is a modern theory and coordinates the prior two theories.
  • Recent Conventions show that individuals are Subjects of International Law. However, practically States are subjects for a majority of issues. Cases are often decided on the basis of States only and not on the basis of individuals.
  • The United Nations Organization is a juristic person and not a State. It is often considered as a 'Super State'. Hence, it is a subject of international law and capable of possessing international rights and duties and it has the capacity to maintain its rights by bringing international claims.

Related Cases

  • Danzing Railways Official Case
  • The Neuremberg Trial (1946)
  • Attorney General of the Government of Israel vs Eichmann

See Also