Units: 0
Level: Upper year

Class Schedule

Prof. Jan Wouters


This course focuses on public international law from both a global and regional perspective. As to the latter, we will take a European and comparative perspective, highlighting attitudes and practice on international law in Europe and comparing them with Canada.

International law has been going through remarkable developments in the past 70 years. This applies not just to its sources, i.e. the processes of lawmaking, but also to its actors (or subjects). In terms of law-making processes, the number of international treaties, both bilateral and multilateral, has expanded enormously, generating a dense network of rights and obligations in areas such as the law of the sea, the governance of the Arctic and Antarctica, the protection of the environment, human rights, trade and investment relations. In essence, the traditional “law of coexistence” has been complemented by a critical body of “law of cooperation”. This begs the question what the role is today for customary international law, general principles and other sources of the law. But in recent years we also see a decline in treaty-making and a spectacular rise of many forms of “informal law-making” which go beyond the classical doctrine of sources of international law, triggering fundamental questions on the adaptation of international law to new transnational regulatory dynamics.

In terms of the actors, apart from a strong increase in the number of States, the world has seen an unprecedented rise of both global and regional international organizations that have been set up after the Second World War. As far as universal international organizations are concerned, the course focuses on the United Nations (UN) and its specialized agencies (including for instance the ILO, IMF, WHO, World Bank), as well as, in the area of international trade, the World Trade Organization (WTO). On the other hand, a great number of regional and cross-regional organizations have seen the light of day. A very sophisticated example of such regional organization is the European Union (EU): the EU has exclusive powers in a number of policy fields, including trade, investment and monetary policy: hence, Canada and the EU have recently concluded the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which each other. Moreover, in many cross-regional organizations, both Canada and European countries participate: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Moreover, Canada and European countries also participate in a number of informal international bodies, such as the G7 and the G20.

Both global, cross-regional and regional organizations have contributed enormously to safeguarding global public goods, such as peace and security, economic prosperity, the protection of human rights and human dignity, international justice, and international monetary stability. However, multilateral cooperation is currently facing serious challenges: from a need for reform (with a view to more efficiency, legitimacy and accountability) to increasing contestation by non-Western powers (in particular the BRICS) and disengagement by a number of countries (e.g. the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the UN Human Rights Council; the UK’s withdrawal from the EU). The course asks critical questions about how to address these challenges and preserve, and modernize, the achievements of seven decades of international cooperation. Special attention will go to the question what we can learn from regional and cross-regional cooperation and how fundamental values such as democracy, human rights, the rule of law, solidarity and justice help to underpin the international legal order in a sustainable manner.

Teaching Method:


Additional information on the teaching method delivered in this class:

We will do partly lecturing and partly interactive discussions about the themes outlined above.

Materials Used:

J. Wouters, C. Ryngaert, T. Ruys and G. De Baere, International Law: a European Perspective, Hart Publishing, 2018.

Method of Evaluation


Other Type of Evaluation:

The evaluation will be based for 30% on active class participation and for 70% on a final paper.


Final Exams:

Exam type: None

Exam duration:

Computerized exam: No


Method of evaluation for graduate students:

The evaluation will be based for 30% on active class participation and for 70% on a final paper.