How to introduce a new term to the jargon of international law: ‘World law’ as example

Posted on Actualizado enn

In a recent Dutch article on world law, the term (“wereldrecht” in Dutch) was defined as “a collection of norms of public international law, based on global values, accepted and recognized by the international community as a whole, compliance with which is seen as a legal interest of the same community.”

So is this what the term “world law” means? There is lots of competition. Earlier examples where the same term was introduced give an entirely different meaning to it. For example, in a most interesting article, with the beautiful title “The Dawn of World Law” (“De dageraad van het wereldrecht”, see p. 486), published in 1899 (!!), we read that “the idea of ‘world law’ is most fully realized when all different local laws are replaced by one uniform law.” Interestingly, the article is referring to private international law, and the need to harmonize national private law, or come up with universally applicable rules of private international law, i.e. world law. It thus has little to do with the law governing relations between States, i.e. public international law.

A few years later (in 1911), Bridgman introduced the term “world law” as “the official declaration of the will of the world”, and he introduced a set of international treaties that together constituted this will of the world. His book was entitled The First Book of World Law: a Compilation of the International Con… (Boston: Ginn & Company 1911). This title already explains his entire theory: world law is thus a compilation of the international conventions to which the principal States are signatory. Bridgman focused on the number of signatures, not on the substantive character of the norms of world law (e.g. their relationship with global values).

The most famous post-war elaboration of the concept of “world law” is undoubtedly the book by Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn, entitled World Peace through World Law. Clark and Sohn defined world law as “law that applies equally to all peoples and all individuals in the world.” They referred to the Charter of the United Nations.

Let’s refer to one last attempt to claim the same term. Angelika Emmerich-Fritsche published a book in 2007 of more than 1000 pages, entitled Vom Völkerrecht zum Weltrecht (from international law to world law).

Emmerich-Fritsche defined world law as ‘Weltbürgerrecht’ (world citizen law). This concept referred to relationships between all individuals in this world, instead of relations between States. However, she did not use it as a term of private international law, but rather as the beginning of a new kind of international law, with a much less exclusive role for States.

World Law is a great term, which must find a place in the jargon of international legal studies. But who decides what it means?

Source: Global Ethics Network

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