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International law is the body of legal rules that apply between sovereign states and such other entities as have been granted international personality by sovereign states. Concerning labour law, the most important entity is International Labour Organization.

The rules of international law are of a normative character; that is, they prescribe standards of conduct. They distinguish themselves, however, from moral rules by being, at least potentially, designed for authoritative interpretation by an independent judicial authority and by being capable of enforcement by the application of external sanctions. These characteristics make them legal rules.

The law-creating processes of international law are the forms in which rules of international law come into existence; i.e., treaties, rules of international customary law, and general principles of law recognized by civilized nations. It is the merit of article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice

International law means public international law as distinct from private international law or the conflict of laws, which deals with the differences between the municipal laws of different countries.

International law forms a contrast to national law. While international law applies only between entities that can claim international personality, national law is the internal law of states that regulates the conduct of individuals and other legal entities within their jurisdiction.

International law can be universal, regional or bilateral. Although there is some duplication between universal and regional labour law, the practical value of regional law lies mainly in the possibility it offers to establish standards which are more progressive than worldwide standards for dealing with the special problems of the region concerned; to secure greater uniformity of law within a region; or to provide more extensive reciprocal advantages. Bilateral law has a different purpose. Mainly, it determines the conditions of entry and of employment in each contracting country for the nationals of the other. This chapter deals only with universal and regional labour law.

The sources – instruments by which states and other subjects of international law, such as certain international organizations – of international law are international agreements. The agreements assume a variety of form and style, but they are all governed by the law of treaties, which is part of customary international law.

A treaty, the typical instrument of international relations, is defined by the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties as an “agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation”.

Some multilateral agreements set up an international organization for a specific purpose or a variety of purposes. They may therefore be referred to as constituent agreements. The United Nations Charter (1945) is both a multilateral treaty and the constituent agreement of the United Nations. An example of a regional agreement that operates as a constituent agreement is the charter of the Organization of American States (Charter of Bogotá), which established the organization in 1948. The constitution of an international organization may be part of a wider multilateral treaty. The Treaty of Versailles (1919), for example, contained in Part I the Covenant of the League of Nations and in Part XIII the constitution of the International Labour Organization.

The term supranational is of recent origin and is used to describe the type of treaty structure developed originally by six western European states: France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The first treaty was that of Paris, signed in 1951, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC); the second, the Rome treaty, signed in 1957, establishing the European Economic Community (EEC); the third, the Rome treaty of the same date establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). A clause in the ECSC treaty provides for the complete independence of the members of the executive organ from the governments that appoint them.

Treaties, however, are not the only instruments by which international agreements are concluded. There are single instruments that lack the formality of a treaty called agreed minute, memorandum of agreement, or modus vivendi; there are formal single instruments called convention, agreement, protocol, declaration, charter, covenant, pact, statute, final act, general act, and concordat; finally there are less formal agreements consisting of two or more instruments, such as “exchange of notes” or “exchange of letters.” (See United Nations, Definition of Key Terms Used in the UN Treaty Collection)


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