General International Law: A New Source of International Law?

  • Christian Tomuschat


The role of general international law (GIL) within the system of international law sources can be discussed starting from the question of whether sources of international law are conceivable outside the realm of Art 38 of the ICJ Statute. Two different approaches on GIL can be taken: GIL may, in substance, belong to one of the three classes of legal rules enumerated by Art. 38 or it may instead constitute an autonomous category of its own. As far as treaties are concerned, even in cases of treaties with a very high number of ratifications, their norms cannot be considered, in technical legal terms, as GIL. In the same way, general principles of law cannot be equated to GIL. In various cases where the concept of GIL has been referred to, the rule concerned did not have that broad content that principles normally have. Norms of jus cogens may be considered as GIL; but the question remains as to whether other less prominent examples of general rules encountered in the case-law of international tribunals can be defined as GIL. According to the author the answer is negative. GIL has two components: the first is made by jus cogens rules; the second includes rules without a precise classification, but which are legal propositions expressing genuine consensus of the international community and capable of satisfying the needs of the interpreter for flexible law-making in today’s international society.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Tomuschat
    • 1
  1. 1.Humboldt University of BerlinBerlinGermany

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