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Does International Law Exist? How Is That Possible?


By Cliff DuRand

In January, the Center for Global Justice will present a talk at La Biblioteca by Professor Joan Roelofs, followed by a four-session course on international law.

International law is indeed flourishing throughout the world and deals with everything under the sun, and even the space above it. Among its more recent concerns are polar bears, bananas, indigenous peoples’ communal rights, nuclear weapons, and the type of sugar in Mexican soft drinks. There is still plenty of activity with its older agenda—such as treatment of diplomats, mitigation of warfare, and piracy.

Before World War II, international law didn’t ban genocide, apartheid, human rights violations of a nation’s own citizens, or pollution. Change began with the Nuremburg Charter (1945), the United Nations (1945), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Promoting international human rights was one of the UN’s major objectives. Others were outlawing war, ending colonialism in an orderly way, and facilitating cooperation in every kind of activity.

Just as contracts create binding law among private parties, international law comes into being by consent, often in the form of treaties. Nations agree to follow rules because they see it as in their interest; they are also concerned about their reputation. Surprisingly, most of international law is enforced by voluntary cooperation. Disputes may be settled by negotiation, mediation, or international and regional courts such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Nongovernmental organizations such as the International Red Cross and Amnesty International have important roles in creating, monitoring, and enforcing human rights treaties.

Much useful activity is buzzing smoothly throughout the world because of international law, yet it has been notoriously unsuccessful in the most important matters: the abolition of war, or even the mitigation of warfare; global justice; and salvation of the environment. Some of the reasons for this tragic shortfall will be discussed in the January course.

Prof. Roelofs, a semiretired political scientist, studied international law at Columbia Law School with Philip Jessup, who later became a judge at the International Court of Justice. Roelofs is the author of Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism and Greening Cities: Building Just and Sustainable Communities and translator of Victor Considerant’s Principles of Socialism: Manifesto of 19th Century Democracy. In past years, she has taught popular short courses for the Center for Global Justice.

This year’s course will be on international law. There will be four sessions: Monday Jan 15 (overview), Wednesday Jan 17 (human rights), Monday Jan 22 (war), and Wednesday Jan 24 (trade). The course will meet at the Center, located at Calzada de la Luz 42 (near the corner of Loreto) from 11am–12:30pm. Course fee will be 300 pesos (or 100 pesos for single sessions). Preregister at



Center for Global Justice presents

“Introduction to International Law”

By Joan Roelofs

Thu, Jan 11, 11am

Sala Quetzal, La Biblioteca

Reloj 50A

60 pesos


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