The contribution of Individuals plays an important role in the understanding and development of International law.  Considering the background of the individuals in International law is that, in the twentieth-century international law regained its importance concerning individuals. The Hague Conventions in 1907 established a concern regarding the prisoners of war.

The teachings of Individuals were considered the source for judges to make decisions when putting international law. The individual judges felt and realised what was wrong and right for the society, what things were against humanity. Whenever there is violation of International authority committed by individuals then they are to be held liable to be punished. The individuals were considered as objects and not as subject in classical International law. The individuals were related to the one State through a bond of citizenship. Whenever a situation arises in which the individual suffers from injury, then the State has authority to another State to protect the individual. If there was a situation that the injured individual was stateless and had no nationality, the State would have no responsibility. However, the situation of individuals transformed with the formation of the United Nations Organisation. The Preamble of the United Nations gave importance to individuals. As a subject of International law, the individuals have also granted certain rights and duties.



Presently, in many sub-state obligations on the individual are imposed by International Law  because of the standardise difficulty, the individual development should be acknowledged under two conditions :

  • Need for global regulation
  • Principal of legality

In circumstances where such conditions are completely met, the individual obligation is set up by way of treaties, general principles, customary International Law etc.


According to the law of international responsibility, individuals are subject to secondary obligations. The legal probability of imposing secondary obligations on individuals and primary obligations should be greeted from a conceptual perspective in principle.


With the help of adoptions of International Conventions three privileges have been granted to individuals in International Law.

3.1 Human Rights

General Assembly in 1948 adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to provide individuals with numerous rights. After the adoption of Universal Declaration it did not impose any legal obligations on the State. On December 16, 1966 the third committee recommended the General Assembly to adopt two covenants –

  • International covenants  on Civil and Political rights and,
  • International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights

Also adopted optional Protocol on Civil and Political Rights. To provide different rights were declared by the contracting parties. General Assembly on November 20, 1989 provided number of rights to the child, less than age of eighteen years. General Assembly on December 18, 1979 made rights for women on all forms of Discrimination Against Women.

3.2 Right to make Petitions

With the increase in the awareness of the Human Rights has given individual to file or make petitions for their violation of rights before the International Forums. Article 14 provides that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination shall receive communications on the violation of rights mentioned in the Convention from individuals. The General Assembly may propose measures for the harmonious improvement of any situation, nevertheless of origin together with situations which result from an infringement of Charter provisions. Article 22 of the Convention provide against torture, inhuman treatment and to protect the rights of Migrant Workers given in Article 75 of the International Convention administered for the individual’s petitions.

Some regional conventions for instance, the preservation of Human Rights and the elemental freedoms the European Convention of 1950 lays down under Article 25 that the Committee may receive petitions from any person or group of individuals, organisation ( non- government ) who may be declared to be the victims of a contravention by High Contracting Parties.

3.3 Right to Arbitration and Conciliation Proceedings

To have direct access to settle the disputes the Private Foreign investors are provided for the Arbitration and Conciliation on the basis of the consent. This was administered by the Convention for the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nations.


Obligation has been imposed by International Law on Individuals committing crime. In Customary International Law the practice of attacking, robbing, and slavery were the offences which were recognized where individuals can be punished.

4.1 Offence of Piracy

In the traditional period, the offence of piracy is regarded as a wrongdoing against International Law. The offender is liable to be punished by any State. Every State has a right to seize the crafts involved in the offence of piracy and the State can arrest, try and sentence the pirates. Under Article 100 which provide State to co-operate to the fullest possible extent in the suppression of piracy to the place which is outside the jurisdiction of any State.

4.2 Encroachment of the Rules of warfare

Punishment may be disposed by the belligerents to those individual members of the armed forces of aggressive States who are evilly held for the violations of the rules of warfare. As per the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, the authority of tribunal extends to the individual crimes, crimes against humanity, a war crime against peace whether they violate or not the domestic law in which they were held responsible.

In 1946, the Tribunal gave a judgment which explained the concept of individual responsibilty- in this judgment the International Law bound the duties and liabilities upon the individual as well as upon States. Men committed crimes against International Law and the provisions can be enforced only by punishing the individuals. The High Contracting Parties enact legislation necessary to provide effective punishment for individuals committing a series of offences. Such offences include – torture, treating inhumanly, destruction.

4.3 Espionage as Offence

An act of an individual who in an illicit way or under false pretence seeks to obtain information concerning a belligerent with the purpose of transmitting to other belligerent. The older Customary rule enacted in Article 24 of the Hague Regulations said that use of methods for gaining information about the enemy country is considered permissible. Espionage committed by individuals are considered to be the criminals and they are liable to be punished. Punishment includes hanging or shooting and also less severe punishments are admissible.

4.4 Crime of Genocide

Under International Law, Genocide was regarded as a crime for which the prisoners, private individuals, public officials were appropriate for punishment. Genocide is the systematic killing of substantial numbers of people on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, political beliefss, social statuss, or other particularities. The General Assembly on December 9 adopted the Genocide Convention under which Article 1 of it provides that the Genocide committed in time of place or in time of war, it is punishable under International Law.

4.5 Aircraft Hijacking

The term is also commonly known as ‘ skyjacking’, it is committed on board an aircraft with the use of force or threat against those who have the control of an aircraft in order to achieve a certain goal or to reach the desired destination. Air Hijacking is an unlawful act, particularly a form of International Terrorism. 

4.5 Terrorism Committed by Individuals and Groups of Individuals

A distinct situation arises when individuals or a group of them commit terrorism. The reason for such criminal behaviour may differ from case to case. The goal or motive of terrorism is unjustifiable. International Law solicitude is only with those performances which have to bear on International relations.


CASE: Van Genden Loos v. Nederlandse Administratie der Belastingen (1963)

This was the landmark case of the European Court of Justice. In this the court held that the community constitutes  new legal rights enforced  by natural and legal persons before the courts. For this benefit, States have limited sovereign rights and the subjects also comprise nationals as members. Apart  from legislation by the Member States, Community Law forces responsibility on individuals but also grant legal rights[3].

CASE: Filartiga v. Pena- Irala (1980)

In this case, it was held that torture is considered to violate law of nations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights portrays the fact forbidding against torture has become segment of Customary International Law. Torture has been officially waived in the majority of nations.

CASE: Mavrommatis Palestine Greece v. Britain

Here Greece as the complainant, brought by Mavromattis, a Greek subject against Britain in respect of a claim. The jurisdiction dealt with disputes among the States. In Panevezys- Saldutiks Railway case the same principle was eventually applied by Permanent Court of International Justice.

Death Penalty Cases of La Grand and Aveva

In the La Grand case, it was held that the rights of German had been violated by the US as their right given under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations were not informed. Article 36 (1) of Vienna Convention could be invoked by Germany.


It can be concluded that in upcoming future individuals are likely to possess more rights and duties which are of legal importance. The position of individual would remain limited as long they do not have the means to approach the International Court of Justice. After the Criminal Court being formed in 1998 the position of individuals has been enhanced to determine the gravest crimes carried out by the individuals.


Dr. H.O. Aggarwal “ International Law and Human Rights

Janis, Mark W. “Individuals as subjects of international law.” Cornell Int’l LJ 17 (1984): 61.


Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.


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