Institute of International Law


International law postcardFounding. Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, a Belgian jurist and editor of the Revue de droit international et de législation comparée, provided the initiative for the founding of the Institute of International Law (L’Institut de droit international). In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), he entered into correspondence with some other leading jurists who were also beginning to consider ways of establishing collective scientific action for the promotion of international law – inseparable, in their opinion, from the promotion of peace. In September, 1873, he assembled ten eminent jurists for meetings in the town hall of Ghent: Tobias Asser (The Netherlands), Wladimir Besobrasoff (Russia), J. K. Bluntschli (Germany), Carlos Calvo (Argentina), David Dudley Field (U.S.A.), Émile de Laveleye (Belgium), James Lorimer (Great Britain), P. S. Mancini (Italy), Gustave Moynier (Switzerland), and Augusto Pierantoni (Italy). This group established the Institute, electing Mancini president and Rolin-Jacquemyns secretary-general. The Institute held its first session in Geneva in 1874; its fifty-fifth is scheduled for Zagreb in August-September, 1971.

The Institute of International Law is a purely scientific and private association, without official character, whose objective is to promote the progress of international law by: formulating general principles; cooperating in codification; seeking official acceptance of principles in harmony with the needs of modern society; contributing to the maintenance of peace or to the observance of the laws of war; proffering needed judicial advice in controversial or doubtful cases; and contributing, through publications, education of the public, and any other means, to the success of the principles of justice and humanity which should govern international relations.

Participants. The Institute maintains a reasonably balanced representation from the nations of the world and extends membership only to those who have demonstrated scholarly attainment and who are likely to be free from political pressures. The statutes and regulations governing the Institute establish three categories of participants: members, associates, and honorary members. The associates – limited to seventy-two – are drawn from candidates «who have rendered service to international law, either in the domain of theory or of practice»1 and who have been presented either by their national associations or by the Bureau of the Institute. The members – limited to sixty – are chosen from among the associates. The honorary members – not limited in number by the statutes but sparingly chosen in practice – are selected from the ranks of members or associates or from any other persons who distinguish themselves in the field of international law.

All participants share in the scholarly and issue-oriented activities of the Institute. Only the members deal with administrative matters such as finances, decisions concerning the statutes and regulations, election of members and honorary members, or the election of members of the Bureau or of the Council of the Auxiliary Foundation.

To assure representation of the various judicial systems of the world, the Institute permits no state to have more than one-fifth of the members or associates allowed in each category, and the Bureau of the Institute may allocate to candidates from parts of the world which are under-represented, up to one-third of the number of associate memberships open in any given session. As of May, 1971, the Institute had a total of 115 members, associates, and honorary members drawn from forty states, the preponderant number being from Western countries2.

Organization. The assembly of members and honorary members convened at each session is the sovereign legislative body of the Institute. Executive power is vested in the Bureau of the Institute, an office composed of the president of the Institute, the three vice-presidents, the secretary-general, and the treasurer.

The president, usually chosen from among the members representing the country or institution which is to host the next session of the Institute, and the first vice-president are elected at the end of a given session and remain in office until the close of the following session. The second and third vice-presidents are elected at the opening of each session, remaining in office until the start of the next session. The secretary-general and the treasurer, elected to serve for three sessions, may succeed themselves. As the principal executive officer of the Institute, the secretary-general directs the daily operation of the Institute, assumes custody of its archives, and supervises publication of its Yearbook. His residence is the official seat of the Institute.3

Finances. For many years the Institute was financed by contributions from its participants. Since the turn of the century, it has gradually built up an endowment from gifts, awards, and bequests, most notably the Nobel Peace Prize funds of 1904 and grants from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

To manage the endowment funds, the Institute in 1947 created, under Swiss law, its Auxiliary Foundation, with headquarters in Lausanne. The funds, derived from the Foundation and administered by the treasurer, are used to reimburse members and associates for travel expenses incurred by attendance at the sessions, to defray organizational costs of the sessions, and to pay for the publication of the Yearbook.

Activities. The preoccupation of the Institute is the objective study of existing international law; and its abiding concern is that the evolution of international law proceed in a manner that conforms to the principles of justice and humanity. Since it is a private association, it has no mandate to intervene directly in actual international disputes. The Institute does not, therefore, participate in the settlement of international controversies, nor does it censure governments for the positions they take in particular cases. The only exception to this rule was its adoption of a resolution in 1877 pertaining to the application of international law in the war between Russia and Turkey.

The Institute does not, however, limit its concern to legal abstractions nor its thinking to mere speculation. The Institute has formulated and endorsed specific proposals for the gradual creation of an international community that respects law and justice. Between 1873 and 1969, the pacific settlement of international disputes, for example, has been the subject of fifteen directly applicable resolutions and of many others indirectly applicable. Among these resolutions are those on treaties of arbitration; on procedures in conciliation; on the establishment, composition, and procedure of an International Court of Justice. On the subject of human rights the Institute has adopted at least eleven directly applicable resolutions, including its declaration of 1929 and the statement of 1947. Between 1873 and World War I, the question of neutrality was the concern of twenty-one resolutions, but it was not revived until half a century later in resolutions of 1963 and 1969. In the domain of international private law, from 1873 to 1969, the Institute has adopted sixty-four resolutions dealing with civil, criminal, and commercial matters.

Although the resolutions of the Institute have no official authority in the chancellories or the parliaments of the world, they have nonetheless exerted a significant influence on their actions, as well as on international conferences and on public opinion in general. For example, certain international treaties of the 1880’s embodied recommendations made by the Institute on the Suez Canal and on the submarine cable; international arbitration procedures incorporated some of its suggestions; the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907 utilized its studies on the laws of war, especially those on the codification of land war prepared at its 1880 session in Oxford and thereafter called the «Oxford Manual»; the League of Nations and the United Nations have considered its recommendations on various questions. In the domain of international private law, the Institute’s influence can be seen in extradition legislation – to cite only one instance; and the 1969 discussion of pollution of international waters provides direction for research on a pressing, contemporary problem4.

Selected Bibliography
Abrams, Irwin, «The Emergence of the International Law Societies», Review of Politics, 19 (1957) 361-380.
Annuaire de l’Institut de droit international: Session d’Édimbourg, Septembre, 1969. Volume 53, 2 tomes. Bâle, Éditions juridiques et sociologiques S.A., 1970. The first volume of the Annuaire was published at Ghent in 1877; the 53 volumes provide a complete record of the Proceedings of the Institute.
Rolin, Albéric, Les Origines de l’Institut de droit international (1873-1923): Souvenirs d’un témoin. Gand, 1923.
Schou, August, Histoire de l’internationalisme III: Du Congrès de Vienne jusqu’à la première guerre mondiale (1914), pp. 311-321. Publications de l’Institut Nobel Norvégien, Tome VIII. Oslo, Aschehoug, 1963.
«Statuts de l’Institut de droit international.» An offprint of pp. xxxiii-ixxv from Tome II of the Annuaire, q.v.supra.
«Table des matiéres: L’Indiquant le titre des Résolutions adoptées par l’Institut au cours de ses cinquante-quatre sessions tenues depuis sa fondation en 1873 jusqu’à 1969.» An offprint of pp. ixxix-xci from Tome II of the Annuaire, q.v. supra.
Wehberg, Hans, Institut de droit international: Tableau général des résolutions, 1873-1956. Bâle, Éditions juridiques et sociologiques S.A., 1957.

* The editor gratefully acknowledges permission to use freely material kindly supplier for this history by the Institute of International Law.

1. Statuts de l’Institut de droit international, Article 5.

2. Countries having four or more representatives are: Austria 4, Belgium 8, England 11, France 9, Germany 5, Greece 5, Italy 9, The Netherlands 4, Spain 5, Switzerland 5, United States 6.

3. In the Institute’s history of almost a hundred years there have been twelve secretaries-general: G. Rolin-Jacquemyns (1873-1878, Ghent; 1887-1892, Brussels); M. Rivier (1878-1887, Brussels); E. Lehr (1892-1900, Lausanne); Baron Descamps (1900-1906, Louvain); A. Rolin ( 1906-1913, Ghent; 1913-1919, The Hague; 1919-1923, Brussels); M. Nerincx (1923-1927, Louvain); C. De Visscher (1927-1931, Ghent; 1931-1937, Brussels); F. De Visscher (1937-1950, Brussels); H. Wehberg (1950- 1962, Geneva); P. Guggenheim (par interim 1962-1963, Geneva); Mme. S. Bastid (1963-1969, Paris); P. De Visscher (1969-, Brussels).

4. «Etude des mesures internationales les plus aptes à prévenir la pollution des milieux maritimes» in Annuaire (1969), pp. 547-711.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1901-1925, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

This text was first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.

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