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Why I Stopped Believing in Customary International Law

  • Daniel H. JOYNER (a1)

Abstract

There has been a recent proliferation of scholarship on the development, identification, and determination of customary international law [CIL]. Much of this has focused on explication of the theoretical and practical problems inherent in the modern use of CIL as a source of international law. However, there are influential voices who argue that CIL nevertheless continues to play a necessary role in the international legal system, and that many of the problems that have been identified are exaggerated. This paper maintains that the problems which have been identified in the processes of identification and determination of CIL are of such a serious and institutionalized nature as to produce a presumptive distrust of any statement about what is or is not CIL. It argues that the process of identifying and authoritatively determining CIL must evolve to more objectively evidence the positive assent of states to the making of customary rules.

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Copyright

Footnotes

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Elton B. Stephens Professor of Law, University of Alabama School of Law. I would like to thank Jean d’Aspremont and Iain Scobbie for their thoughtful discussion of these topics, and comments on earlier drafts.

Footnotes

References

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1. See BRADLEY, Curtis A., ed., Custom’s Future: International Law in a Changing World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016); D’ASPREMONT, Jean, ed., Participants in the International Legal System: Multiple Perspectives on Non-State Actors in International Law (New York: Routledge, 2011); BLUTMAN, Laszlo, “Conceptual Confusion and Methodological Deficiencies: Some Ways that Theories on Customary International Law Fail” (2014) 25 European Journal of International Law 529 ; HELFER, Laurence and WUERTH, Ingrid, “Customary International Law: An Instrument Choice Perspective” (2016) 37 Michigan Journal of International Law ; d’Aspremont, Jean, “Expansionism and the Sources of International Human Rights Law” (2016) 46 Israel Yearbook of International Human Rights 223 ; d’Aspremont, Jean, “The Decay of Modern Customary International Law in Spite of Scholarly Heroism” in Giuliana Ziccardi CAPALDO, ed., Global Community: Yearbook of International Law and Jurisprudence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); PETERSEN, Niels. “The International Court of Justice and the Judicial Politics of Identifying Customary International Law” (2017) 28 European Journal of International Law 357 ; TALMON, Stefan, “Determining Customary International Law: The ICJ’s Methodology Between Induction, Deduction and Assertion” (2015) 26 European Journal of International Law 417 ; TAMS, Christian, “Meta-Custom and the Court: A Study in Judicial Law-Making” (2015) 14 Law & Practice of International Courts and Tribunals 51 ; LEPARD, Brian D., Customary International Law: A New Theory with Practical Applications (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); VERDIER, Pierre-Hueges and VOETEN, Erik, “Precedent, Custom and Change in Customary International Law: An Explanatory Theory” (2014) 108 American Journal of International Law 389 ; BAKER, Roozbeh (Rudy) B., “Customary International Law in the 21st Century: Old Challenges and New Debates” (2010) 21 European Journal of International Law 173 ; GEIGER, Rudolf, “Customary International Law in the Jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice: A Critical Appraisal” in Ulrich FASTENRATH et al., eds., From Bilateralism to Community Interest: Essays in Honour of Bruno Simma (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); HERNÁNDEZ, G.I., The International Court of Justice and the Judicial Function ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); Stephen J. CHOI and Mitu GULATI, “Customary International Law: How Do Courts Do It?” in Bradley, Custom’s Future: International Law in a Changing World; ALVAREZ-JIMENEZ, Alberto, “Methods for the Identification of Customary International Law in the International Court of Justice’s Jurisprudence: 2000–2009” (2011) 60 International and Comparative Law Quarterly 681 .

2. See BEDERMAN, David J., Custom as a Source of Law ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010 ); CHIMNI, B.S., “Customary International Law: A Third World Perspective” (2018) 112 American Journal of International Law 1 .

3. See Michael WOOD, “Custom’s Bright Future: The Continuing Importance of Customary International Law” in Bradley, supra note 1.

4. See Michael WOOD, First Report on Formation and Evidence of Customary International Law, UN Doc. A/ CN.4/663 (2013); Second Report on Identification of Customary International Law, UN Doc. A/CN.4/672 (2014); Third Report on Identification of Customary International Law, UN Doc. A/CN.4/682 (2015).

5. See CRAWFORD, James, Brownlie’s Principles of Public International Law, 7th ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

6. See Wood, supra note 3; VAgtS, Detlev F., “International Relations Looks at Customary International Law: A Traditionalist’s Defence” (2004) 15 European Journal of International Law 1031 ; TREVES, Tullio, “Customary International Law” in Rudiger WOLFRUM, ed., The Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

7. Talmon, supra note 1 at 411.

8. Choi and Gulati, supra note 1 at 125.

9. Ibid., at 147.

10. See MURPHY, Sean, “Codification, Progressive Development, or Scholarly Analysis? The Art of Packaging the ILC’s Work Product” in Maurizio RAGAZZI, ed., The Responsibility of International Organizations: Essays in Memory of Sir Ian Brownlie (Leiden: Brill, 2013); MCRAE, Donald M., “The Work of the International Law Commission, 2007–2011: Progress and Prospects” (2012) 106 American Journal of International Law 322 .

11. See e.g. JENNINGS, Robert, “Recent Developments in the International Law Commission: Its Relation to the Sources of International Law” (1964) 13 International and Comparative Law Quarterly 385 ; McRae, Donald M., “The International Law Commission: Codification and Progressive Development After Forty Years” (1987) 25 Canadian Yearbook of International Law 355 .

12. However, see COGAN, Jacob K., “The Changing Form of the International Law Commission’s Work” (2014) 108 AJIL Unbound 4 .

13. See ALVAREZ, Jose E., International Organizations as Lawmakers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) at 304316 .

14. Ibid.

15. See RAMCHARAN, B.G., The International Law Commission: Its Approach to the Codification and Progressive Development of International Law (Leiden: Nijhoff, 1977) at 3135 .

16. See e.g. WEISBURD, Arthur Mark, Use of Force: The Practice of States Since World War II (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1997).

17. See JOYNER, Daniel H., “United Nations Counter-proliferation Sanctions and International Law” in Larissa VAN DEN HERIK, ed., Research Handbook on UN Sanctions and International Law (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017). I am referring to the process by which I asserted the existence of a rule of CIL prohibiting coercive economic sanctions, on pages 115–16.

18. See WILMSHURST, Elizabeth and BREAU, Susan, eds., Perspectives on the ICRC Study of Customary International Humanitarian Law (London: Chatham House, 2007).

19. See Helfer and Wuerth, supra note 1; d’Aspremont, “Expansionism and the Sources of International Human Rights Law”, supra note 1; d’Aspremont, “The Decay of Modern Customary International Law in Spite of Scholarly Heroism”, supra note 1.

20. See Talmon, supra note 1.

21. See e.g. Monica HAKIMI, “Custom’s Method and Process: Lessons from International Humanitarian Law” in Bradley, supra note 1.

22. d’Aspremont, “Expansionism and the Sources of International Human Rights Law”, supra note 1.

23. See CASSESE, Antonio and GAETA, Paolo, eds, Cassese’s International Criminal Law, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) at 105107 .

24. See generally HAYASHI, Nobuo and BAILLIET, Cecilia, eds., The Legitimacy of International Criminal Tribunals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

25. See Hakimi, supra note 21.

26. See MURRAY, Daragh, “How International Humanitarian Law Treaties Bind Non-State Armed Groups” (2015) 20 Journal of Conflict & Security Law 101 .

27. ROBERTS, Anthea, “Traditional and Modern Approaches to Customary International Law: A Reconciliation” (2001) 95 American Journal of International Law 757 .

28. See Blutman, supra note 1.

29. See generally SHAW, Malcolm N., International Law, 6th ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008) at 911 .

30. See YEE, Sienho, “A Reply to Sir Michael Wood’s Response to AALCOIEG’s Work and My Report on the ILC Project on Identification of Customary International Law” (2016) 15 Chinese Journal of International Law 33 .

31. See Wood, supra note 3; Wood, Michael, “The Present Position Within the ILC on the topic ‘Identification of Customary International Law’: in Partial Response to Sienho Yee” (2016) 15 Chinese Journal of International Law 3 ; Wood, Michael and SENDER, Omri, “Identifying the Rules for Identifying Customary International Law: Response from Michael Wood and Omri Sender” (2015) 108 AJIL Unbound 196 ; Sender, Omri and Wood, Michael, “The International Court of Justice and Customary International Law: A Reply to Stefan TalmonEJILTalk! (30 November 2015), online: EJILTalk! <https://www.ejiltalk.org/the-international-court-of-justice-and-customary-international-law-a-reply-to-stefan-talmon/>.

32. Wood, supra note 3 at 363.

33. Ibid. at 365–6.

* Elton B. Stephens Professor of Law, University of Alabama School of Law. I would like to thank Jean d’Aspremont and Iain Scobbie for their thoughtful discussion of these topics, and comments on earlier drafts.

Why I Stopped Believing in Customary International Law

  • Daniel H. JOYNER (a1)

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