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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: April 2013

6 - The individual in international law

from Part I - The structure of international law


For centuries, international law did not think of individuals in other than a highly abstract sense. Individuals were citizens of states; international law was the law between states, and that was it. Individuals, so the phrase went, were objects of international law, but not subjects; they were not considered to be capable of bearing rights and obligations under international law.

And saying that individuals were objects of international law did not take things very far. States could treat their citizens as they pleased. It was only with citizens of other states that states had to respect some basic principles. Thus, if an alien (the term is telling in its own right, evoking creatures from outer space) was injured, then international law could come into play; the state could be held responsible if it was complicit in mistreatment of an individual, or if it failed to protect an individual. And if an alien's property was confiscated or expropriated, again the state could be held responsible and perhaps be under a duty to compensate. Beyond this, however, international law did not address the position of individuals, and this state of affairs lasted until well into the twentieth century.

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International Law
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