When does a state violate International Law?
A state violates international law when it commits an “internationally wrongful act", a breach of an international obligation that the state was bound by at the time when the act took place. A state is bound to act according to international treaties it signed.
The International Law Commission’s Articles on State Responsibility for Internationally Wrongful Acts represent customary international law , binding on all states, regarding when, how and who violates international law, and the consequences of those violations.
- To International Law Commission’s Articles
- To the commentaries of the ILC Draft Articles
- Read more about sources of international law
- Read more about international humanitarian law
- Read more about human rights
Are there any exceptions or justification for violating the law?
There are a number of exceptions when an act that normally would be a violation of international law, does not create responsibility of the state involved, such as cases of consent, self-defence or necessity (ILC, Articles 20-26). These exceptions do not apply to violations of IHL and IHRL: Due to the nature of human rights and international humanitarian law as setting out minimum protections, such exceptions do not play a role, otherwise the entire system of IHL and IHRL would be undermined.
Consent - Under certain sets of international law, it is possible for a one state to consent to a violation of international law of another state. A state may allow another state to use its air space or waters, and the invasion would not be considered an act of aggression.
Necessity - If an act by a state (that may be considered illegal) was the only way for a state to safeguard an essential interest against a grave and imminent danger (and it does not damage another essential interest) - that state does not violate its international responsibilities.
Self-defence - A state cannot be held responsible if it acted in self-defence, in the with UN Charter's rules on when the use of force can be used in self-defense (article 51 of the UN Charter).