Essential International Law Cases for the Classroom

by Duncan Hollis

The S.S. LotusI’m teaching my favorite class–International Law–again this fall. As usual, I’m also trying to find ways to fit a few new, important cases into my coverage (e.g., Sanchez-Llamas, Hamdan). Meanwhile, I see that Prawfsblawg has started an admirable “research canons” series to give young academics the research tools they need to do scholarship in particular areas (look for international law to be covered 10/10/06). This got me wondering about what cases are indispensable to studying international law. Now, obviously, the definition of “indispensable” may vary depending on what particular area(s) of international law interest you. Still, what if you had to pick five “core” cases for teaching an introduction to international law? What cases would you choose? Would you include cases for their doctrine, even if they’re a bit dry (see, e.g., Tadic). Do you choose the most current pronouncement on an area of international law, or, go with an earlier case that gets class discussion going (e.g., Oil Platforms v. Nicaragua)? What about the case no one else teaches? Does that make the list if it happens to work for you (see, my No. 2 below, which, I’d urge people to read as a near-perfect introduction to monist, dualist and harmonization approaches to the relationship between international and domestic law). There’s lots to think about, and I’m sure everyone may have their own list (although I’ll be interested to see what overlap, if any, exists). Indeed, hypothetically speaking, one could waste an entire Friday afternoon crafting a top five list. Here’s mine:

(1) The S.S. Lotus (France v. Turkey), 1927 PCIJ (Ser. A) No.10 (pictured above)
(2) Mortensen v. Peters, 8 Sess. Cas. (5th Ser.) 93 (1906)
(3) Case Concerning Military and Paramilitaty Acitivites in and Against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States) 1984 ICJ 169, 1986 ICJ 14
(4) Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980)
(5) United States-Import Prohibition of Certain Shrimp and Shrimp Products (“Shrimp Turtle”) DS58/AB/R (1998)

What cases make your list?

4 Responses

  1. True. It is almost impossible to pick five. These would be those at the top of my list

    1. Chorzow factory (law on state responsibility)

    2. Reparation for injuries suffered in the service of the UN (legal personality in the IL)

    3. Gabcikovo – Nagymaros (excellent for law of the treaties)

    4. Nicaragua

    5. Soering (ECtHR) One of the most influential HR cases

  2. For European human rights law I would think it’s

    * Soering v United Kingdom

    * Ireland v United Kingdom

    * Dudgeon v United Kingdom/Norris v Ireland

    * A, X &Ors v Secretary of State

    * The Greek Case

  3. I won’t have any degree to hang on my wall to show for it

    (well, I don’t do such things anyway), but I’m getting a first-rate legal education here, so keep those lists (and links) coming!

  4. BTW I am astounded that the Pinochet cases haven’t made the general pub int lists….are they taught as compulsively in the States as in Europe??? (BTW Chilean high court held he could be indicted for torture today….). If I could have ‘substitutes’ on my list for European HRL I’d include Pinochet (Nos. 1 &2); Shah &Isman v. Secretary of State; Kavanagh v Governor of Mountjoy Prison (Irish S.Ct.)….oh so many….

    There should be dedicated courses in the US on European human rights law just to prove that international rights law really CAN work!!!

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