Individuals, Groups and Non-Governmental Organizations in International Law: Relevance, Status, Rights and Duties

Course leader: Dr Adrienne Komanovics

Home Institution: Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary


Course pre-requisite(s): Knowledge of basic legal concepts is recommended

Course Overview

International law has traditionally focused on inter-State relations, based on the premise that States were the exclusive subjects of international law. The twentieth century, however, brought about significant changes, thus the notion of international legal personality is no longer confined to States. Instead, a trend is discernible towards a greater diversity of participants, including individuals, groups of individuals or transnational corporations. The major milestones on the way from a State-centred approach towards the diversification of subjects include, among others, the crystallization of the rules on the protection of ambassadors (diplomatic law), the so-called law of aliens (to be later subsumed under human rights law), international humanitarian law, the fight against slavery, the emergence of governmental and non-governmental organizations, or the minority protection system under the League of Nations. It is no longer disputed in contemporary international law that individuals, and groups of individuals are at least partial subjects of international law. The boundaries of this legal personality are, however, still evolving and cover issues such as the rights and obligations of individuals, group rights, the role of non-governmental organizations, or the reconciliation of business interests with human rights. Non-State actors are increasingly participating, directly or indirectly, in international negotiations and/or the codification of international law, in international litigation or as partners in international organizations The objective of the course is to describe this shift away from the historic State-centric view to a broader concept of international community, and to re-evaluate the status of individuals and other non-State actors under contemporary international law.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the course, participants will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a substantial range of the concepts, values, rules and principles of public international law, as well as critical awareness of current legal issues and developments. Furthermore, students will be able to undertake analysis, evaluation and synthesis of new and complex ideas, and to demonstrate self-direction and originality in tackling advanced legal problems. Finally, participants will be able to demonstrate the ability to exercise initiative, learn independently, communicate their knowledge and conclusions clearly and unambiguously, as well as construct and develop a persuasive legal argument.

Course Content

PART ONE: INTRODUCTION. CONTEXT AND KEY CONCEPTS The concept of legal personality in international law The subjects of international law in a historic context

PART TWO: INDIVIDUALS AS SUBJECTS OF INTERNATIONAL LAW Rights of individuals Substantive rights Enforcement of individual rights Victims’ rights Duties of individuals Individual criminal responsibility under international law Individual responsibility in international human rights law PART TWO: GROUP RIGHTS Key concepts (collective rights, solidarity rights, self-determination, autonomy, secession, etc.) Minority protection Minority protection system between World War I and World War II International protection of minority rights Minority rights protection in Europe Indigenous peoples International law and institutions principally focused on indigenous peoples Legal frames for claims by indigenous peoples

PART THREE: THE ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY (NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS) The rise and growth of civil society organizations Notion and definition Typology Status in intergovernmental organizations Rights of civil society under international law Impact of civil society on international law Role in the field of international verification and monitoring Legal status under international law Legitimacy and accountability of civil society organizations


Instructional Method

The teaching method to be used is a combination of various instructional techniques, depending on the developmental level of the students and the subject matter to be presented. These techniques will include lectures, whereby large amount of information can be conveyed to a large group of people in a short amount of time; using the question-and-answer technique in order to assess the students’ acquisition of particular information as well as to stimulate thought and encourage divergent thinking; and discussion, i.e. an exchange of opinions and perspectives, with a view to engage students in a more intensive treatment of the subject matter.

Required Course Materials

RELEVANT CHAPTERS FROM THE FOLLOWING BOOKS: D. Shelton (ed), The Oxford Handbook of International Human Rights Law (Oxford, 2015) J. Katz Cogan, I. Hurd, I. Johnstone (eds), The Oxford Handbook of International Organizations (Oxford, 2016) C.P.R. Romano, K.J. Alter, Y. Shany (eds), The Oxford Handbook of International Adjudication (Oxford, 2015) FURTHER READING A. Randelzhofer, ‘The Legal Position of the Individual under Present International Law’. In A. Randelzhofer and C. Tomuschat (eds) State Responsibility and the Individual: Reparation in Instances of Grace Violations of Human Rights (Martinus Nijhoff The Hague 1999) pp. 231–42 A. Orakhelashvili, ‘The Position of the Individual in International Law’; (2000–01) 31 CalWIntlLJ pp. 241–76 B. Stephens, ‘Individuals Enforcing International Law: The Comparative and Historical Context’; (2002–3) 52 DePaul Law Review pp. 433–72 D Thürer, ‘The Emergence of Non-Governmental Organizations and Transnational Enterprises in International Law and the Changing Role of the State’. In R. Hofmann (ed) Non-State Actors as New Subjects of International Law (Duncker & Humblot Berlin 2005) pp. 37–58 A. Alam, ‘Is There any Right to Remedy for Victims of Violations of International Humanitarian Law?’; (2006) 3 Humanitäres Völkerrecht pp. 178–87 A. Cancado Trindade, ‘La persona humana como sujeto del derecho internacional: avances de su capacidad jurídica internacional en la primera década del siglo XXI’; (2007) 46 RevIIDH pp. 273–329 C. Damgaard, Individual Criminal Responsibility for Core International Crimes: Selected Pertinent Issues (Springer Berlin 2008) J.P. Pérez-León, ‘El individuo como sujeto de derecho internacional: Análisis de la dimensión activa de la subjetividad jurídica internacional del individuo’; (2008) 8 Anuario Mexicano de Derecho Internacional pp. 599–642 J.P. Pérez-León, ‘El individuo como sujeto de derecho internacional: Análisis de la dimensión activa de la subjetividad jurídica internacional del individuo’; (2008) 8 Anuario Mexicano de Derecho Internacional pp. 599–642 R. McCorquodale, ‘The Individual and the International Legal System’. In A Bianchi (ed) Non-State Actors and International Law (Ashgate Farnham 2009) pp. 121–46 A. Clapham, ‘The Role of the Individual in International Law’; (2010) 21 EJIL pp. 25–30 G. Gaja, ‘The Position of Individuals in International Law: An ILC Perspective’; (2010) 21 EJIL pp. 11–14 Y. McDermott, ‘Victims and International Law: Remedies in the Courtroom?’ (2009) 4 Hague Justice Journal pp. 199–213 A. Peters and others (eds), Non-State Actors as Standard Setters (CUP Cambridge 2009). M.E. Olivier, ‘Exploring Approaches to Accommodating Non-State Actors Within Traditional International Law’ (2010) 1 Human Rights and International Discourse pp. 15–31. S. Charnovitz, ‘Nongovernmental Organizations and International Law’ (2006) 100 AJIL pp. 348–72.


Assessment of participants will be undertaken through a variety of methods including problem-solving exercises, presentations, project work and group work. The actual methods depend to a large extent on the developmental level and number of participants. Emphasis is laid on engaging students as much as possible and encouraging interactivity. Grading is according to the assessment scheme of the host institution.