• Legis Scriptor

Role of the UN in the development of International Law

Authored By- Aishwarya Bhat NS


Economic and Social Development, International Peace and Security, Complex and Specialized Field, International Law Commission, International Court of Justice, Sovereignty.


The UN is an international organization. The object of the UN is to facilitate co-operation among international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and to maintain world peace. This article covers the development and codification of international law, the International Court of Justice, and the UN Commission of International Trade Law.


International law is the primary concern of the UN. In the development of international law, the role of the UN is to promote economic and social development, as well as, it aims at promoting international peace and security. The international law is enshrined in the conventions, treaties, and standards. International law is a complex and specialized field. This guide provides an introduction to the key documentation of UN[i].

Meaning of international law:

International law is also called as public international law or law of nations. It consists of legal rules, norms, and standards that can be applied between sovereign states and other entities that can be legally recognized as international actors.

Development and codification of international law:

The International Law Commission was established in the year 1947 by the General Assembly of the UN. It aims at promoting the progressive development of international law and its codification. The Commission is composed of 34 members who collectively represent the world’s principal legal systems, and serve as experts in their individual capacity, but not as the representatives of their governments. They address issues relevant to regulate the relations between the states, and frequently consult with the International Committee of Red Cross, the International Court of Justice and, the UN specialized agencies, depending on the subject. Often, the Commission also prepares drafts on aspects of international law. The International Law Commission and the UN Commission on International Trade Law report to the General Assembly.

The Commission is primarily concerned with public international law, though it is not precluded from entering the private international law. The General Assembly is charged under Article 13(1) of the charter with the task of initiating the studies and making recommendations for the purpose of encouraging the progressive development of international law and its codification. It is an instrument of international law, and UN member states are bound to follow it. The UN Charter codifies the major principles of international relations, from sovereign equality of the states to prohibit the use of force in international relations[ii].

Who will take up the legal disputes related to International Law?

International Court of Justice (ICJ)

The principal judicial organ of the UN is the International Court of Justice (ICJ). This is the main body of the UN which settles legal disputes submitted to it by states in accordance with international law. It gives advisory opinions on legal questions referred by authorized UN organs and specialized agencies to it. The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for a term of nine years by the General Assembly and the Security Council. In addition to the International Court of Justice, a wide variety of international courts, international tribunals, ad hoc tribunals and the UN have assisted tribunals to varying degrees in relation to the UN.

UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL):

The UN Commission on International Trade Law is a core legal body of the UN system in the field of international trade law with universal membership; specializing in commercial law, with a focus on the modernization and harmonization of rules of the international business.

The programme of assistance in the teaching, study, dissemination and wider appreciation of international law is meant to contribute to the better knowledge of international law as a means for strengthening international peace and security and promoting friendly relations and co-operation among the states. It is one of the cornerstones of efforts of the UN to promote international law[iii].

In the case of S.S. Lotus (France v. Turkey)[1], The court held that the rule of international law prohibits a state from exercising criminal jurisdiction over a foreign national who commits acts outside the state’s national jurisdiction, which does not exist. Failing the existence of a permissive rule to the contrary, it is the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law on a state. It may not exercise its power in the territory of another state.

The court further said that this does not mean that international law prohibits a state from exercising jurisdiction in its own territory. In respect of any case that relates to an act that has taken place abroad, it cannot rely on the permissive rule of international law. In this situation, it is impossible to hold the rule of international law that prohibits Turkey from prosecuting, because he was aboard in a French ship. This stems from the fact that the effects of the alleged offence occurred on a turkey vessel. Hence, both the states may exercise jurisdiction concurrently over this matter because there is no rule of international law with regards to collision cases that have an effect on criminal proceedings that are exclusively within the jurisdiction of the state whose flag is flown[iv].


The author concludes that international law is traditionally based on the notion of the state sovereignty, but the concept is breaking down because of globalization. Interactions between states have become complicated, which involves a wide array of issues requiring them to give up some of their sovereignty just to have effective relations with each other. Similarly, international law has begun to deal with the issues traditionally inside the borders of individual states, such as human rights. These developments have become very controversial; however, international law is often criticized for a lack of legitimacy[v].

[1]Permanent Court of Int’l Justice, P.C.I.J. (ser. A) No. 10 (1927).

References: [i] [ii] [iii],in%20accordance%20with%20international%20law [iv],case%20concerns%20a%20criminal%20trial [v]