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What is the definition of International law given by Oppenheim?

The word ‘International law’ is derived by J. Bentham in 1789. International law is also known as Law of Nations or Transnational Law ( derived by Philip Nelson) and it is also known as common law of mankind derived by C. W. Jenks.

The father of International law is Hugo Grotius, his works played a vital role in the development of International law.

  • His two important work was –
  • Mare Liberum (1609)

Law on War and Peace (1625)

International law is divided into two –

  • Public International Law

Public International Law is universally applicable to all states and it primarily deals with states and to some extent with individuals. For instance – Humanitarian law is universally applicable in all states.


  • Private International Law

Private International law is not universally applicable but it is a law evolved to avoid conflicts due to municipal laws of different states. It however primarily deals with individuals of two states. It is a part of internal law of states due to which conflicts arise and as a result of which Private International law is also known as Conflict of law.


Definition of International Law given by Oppenheim


According to Oppenheim, “International law is a body of Customary and treaty rules which are considered legally binding by States in their intercourse with each other”.

The main element of the definition was –

  • Body of Customary and treaty
  • Considered legally binding
  • Intercourse with each other


Criticism of the definition given by Oppenheim


  • The definition given by Oppenheim plays an important role. However, it was criticised by many jurists. The reason behind the criticism –
  • The definition only talks about the relations of the State with one another but international organisations and institutions have rights and duties under International law and subject to International law.
  • The definition excludes individuals (individuals have rights and duties under International Law)
  • Multinational Corporations (MNCs) are excluded in the definition.
  • In the definition, only Customary and treaty are considered as sources which is not true.
  • In the definition, International law is considered as Static but International Law is living law and dynamic in nature.


Further the definition given by Oppenheim was revised in eight editions of his book (International Law) which was published in 1955. His revised definition was “International law is a body of rules which are legally binding on states in their intercourse with each other.




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