What is the International Law Commission?

C. Mitchell

The International Law Commission (ILC) is a United Nations entity committed to the streamlining and codification of international law. Although nearly every country in the world has its own body of laws, these laws do not always overlap, and in fact they often times conflict. Conflicts of international law are common in cross-border transactions, contract disputes, and international crimes, among other things. Part of the ILC’s mission is to facilitate the unification of international laws, and to encourage countries to agree to and enact complementary regulations. The ILC accomplishes its mission through regular meetings, the adoption and advocacy of various rules, and the routine publishing of comprehensive international law reports.

The International Law Commission is an organ of the United Nations, which is headquartered in New York City.
The International Law Commission is an organ of the United Nations, which is headquartered in New York City.

In the late 1940s, shortly after the dissolution of the League of Nations, the United Nations General Assembly voted to create the International Law Commission. The League of Nations was a precursor to the UN that was committed to the negotiation and peaceful resolution of disputes between governments. Its members were among the first to identify the need for uniformly codified international laws. Much of the ILC’s work involves identifying international issues that are not the frequently treated by national laws, and promoting uniform enactment and enforcement of laws that already exist.

Most of the work that the International Law Commission does concerns the codification of international law where such law is needed. Hand in hand with this is the Commission’s aim to promote “progressive development” of laws. In encouraging progressive development, the ILC seeks to help national governments keep their laws up to date and consistent with the speed of international commerce. Laws on nearly all subjects are considered by the International Law Commission.

Membership in the International Law Commission is limited to 34 individuals, each one typically representing a different country’s interests. New appointees are named by the UN General Council, usually on the recommendation of national governments. At the start of each annual session, the members elect a chairman and a vice-chairman from amongst themselves. Each member serves for a five-year term.

Many of the resolutions and reports the International Law Commission prepares are generated based on the unique concerns of its members, or those that have been forwarded by vote of the wider General Assembly. The ILC also accepts requests from third-parties. Any member country of the United Nations can forward proposals to the ILC for consideration and development. In theory, the ILC can set its own development and advocacy agenda. In practice, however, it rarely strays from the guidance of the General Assembly.

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