Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Alexander Orakhelashvili
Chapter 17: International Law in the 20th Century
Carlo Focarelli 17.1 INTRODUCTION What sort of international law was in place at the outset of the 20th century?1 The slave trade had been abolished, paving the way for international law rules aimed at protecting human beings as such.2 Humanitarian considerations, with a view to alleviating the gruesome effects of war, had also inspired the establishment of the Red Cross and the making in 1864 of the first ever Convention on the protection of the victims of war,3 which in turn set in motion the process of codification of customary international law in general.4 Humanitarian and cosmopolitan ideas had inspired the mission of the Institut de droit international founded in 1873.5 A number of international institutions had been created, particularly in the course of the 19th century, such as International River Commissions and Administrative Unions,6 as well as regional international organizations such as the Union of the American Republics. These rules and institutions had emerged within the ‘states system’ originally built by equal, mutual-tolerating, secular European powers sharing a similar political, economic, social, religious and cultural background.7 In the 19th century the system began to expand globally by spreading the ‘state’ model outside Europe. At that time international law was applied to ‘civilized nations’, namely to those states – essentially European, or of European descent and cultural background – that fulfilled a ‘standard of civilization’ 1 For an overall exposition of the history of international law in the 20th century see, e.g., Wilhelm G. Grewe, The Epochs of International...
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