Introduction to Public International Law

Organizing institution
Utrecht University - Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance
Course code
Course fee (excl. housing)
€ 500.00
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The Public International Law course will look at the role of international law in responding to today's global challenges, such as the Russian activities in Ukraine, the legal aftermath of Srebrenica, the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq, and climate change negotiations. These issues will be used to examine the nature and function of international law, its sources and subjects, and questions of jurisdiction and immunities, state responsibility and the responsibility of international organizations.
The international community is currently faced with multiple fundamental challenges like climate change, international terrorism, and civil wars. This Summer School will investigate the role of public international law in dealing with these matters.

Public international law is the branch of law that regulates the relationship between the actors operating at the international level, including States, international organizations, peoples, and individuals. It also has a major role to play in the management of the global commons, such as biodiversity, fish stocks, and a stable climate.

We will link the general theory and doctrines of public international law to present-day challenges of global interest, such as the Russian activities in Ukraine, the legal aftermath of Srebrenica, the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq, and the international negotiations on mitigating and adapting to climate change.

By critically reflecting on the role of international law in responding to all these formidable global challenges, the Public International Law course aims to introduce the participants to the most important tenets of international law.

These include the nature and function of international law and its role in global politics. We will analyze the relationship between international law and international relations. What influence does international law have in the tough world of politics and power?

We will introduce the participants to the sources of international law: treaties, customary international law, and general principles. How important is it that general political agreement and loose commitments on combating climate change are solidified and codified in international legal binding documents?

We will also identify the subjects of the international legal order: States, international organizations, peoples, individuals, and perhaps also corporations, armed groups, and others. If we want to hold multinational corporations accountable for their actions at the international level, then what rights and obligations do they have, and what consequences does this have for their capacity to act in the international legal order?

We will look at questions of jurisdiction and immunities. Who can exercise criminal jurisdiction in relation to the downing of the MH17, and on what legal basis? Is it the Netherlands? Ukraine? Some international criminal tribunal? What is the role of the UN Security Council in all of this?

We will also look at issues of state responsibility and the responsibility of international organizations. Who can be held legally responsible for the failure of the UN peacekeepers to protect the civilian population of Srebrenica in 1995, and what is the appropriate legal forum to do so? Given that international organizations are immune from legal action before domestic courts, what are the alternative mechanisms to bring a claim against the UN?

Course director

Prof. dr. Cedric Ryngaert

Course aim

The aim of the course is to provide a basic introduction to selected issues of international law, and to show its relevance in today's most pertinent global challenges.

Study load

6 hours teaching during 4 days.
2 hours reading per day.
Marks on the basis of a presentation at the end.


Course fee
€ 500.00
Housing fee
€ 200.00

Housing through Utrecht Summer School


For this course you are required to upload the following documents when applying:

  • Motivation Letter
  • C.V.

More information

Dr. Otto
Spijkers (course coordinator) 
Phone number (direct): +31 30 253 7095
Phone number (department): +31 30 253 7038
Email: o.spijkers@uu.nl


Application deadline: 15 June 2019