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UPSC Law Optional Syllabus -International Law

Updated: May 18

This post have been written on behalf of Aditya Tiwari sir after attending his lecture on same topic and have been reviewed by him before posting here.


Topic 1: Nature and definition of international law.

This Topic is very wide and requires understanding of International Law Definitions and its criticism. Learn all the major aur author/jurist definition such as Oppenheim, Whitman etc.

This topic also includes how international's law developed and Basis of international law. Different theories of harmonisation. there is always a question on how International's law is weak law. It is nothing more than international morality. Austin view and criticism has to be read specifically.

Then come to source of International law. Read only article 34 of ICJ which provides for different sources. There was a question of modern sources as well, meaning sources not referred in ICJ statute.


Topic- 2 : Relationship between international law and municipal law.

This topic is straight forward simply learn the different theories of relationship between Municipal and International Law. There are three major theories including Monoistic, dualistic and transformation theories. Go into detail of each theories and prepare notes for law optional mains examination about them.

Apart from above read the state practice adopted by India, US and UK needs to be studies. In case of India do read Supreme Court cases and what method they have adopted when International law is conflict with domestic laws. Like ADM cabal case where India have signed an Human Right Declration which provides for right against detention and it was in conflict with Order of magistrate jabalpur. Read how court solved the conflict.


Topic- 3 : State recognition and state succession.

It is a very simple topic, mostly one question is asked in law optional subject of UPSC. This topic includes understanding Meaning of recognition, Types of recognition. Generally there are two type de facto and De Jure recognition.

Then read what recognition India follow as a state practice. Also read practice adopted by USA and UK. As sometime question is how Indian state practice differs from these two countries.

Then study what's the difference between recognition of government and recognition of State. Like Palestine is not recognised by US but it is still a state. Focus on how recognition is mainly a political act rather than legal. And in last study legal effect of recognition.

FOr ste secession simply read its meaning and how succession occurs. Then right and dudes of successor state with respect to property, contracts, treaties etc.


Topic-4 : Law of the sea: Inland waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, continental shelf, exclusive economic zone, high seas.

This Topic is very specific and Requires Study of ALL United nation Convention of law of Seas (UNCLOS) . Read the exact provisions in that. These are very comprehension document but only read chapters in those related to our topic of optional syllabus. Read case law related to demarcation of these zones

UNCLOS have different chapters with heading matching our syllabus topic. Read those in detail each provision. Hardly there will 7 to 8 pages in total. There will be three things to study in that, Namely,

a. meaning of these (Inland Water, Territorial sea etc)

b. Extent of these waters

c. Right and duties of state and third parties in these zones

Then read topics with special reference to India. For that maritime zone act, An statute of parliament will suffice.


Topic- 5 : Individuals: Nationality, statelessness; Human rights and procedures available for their enforcement.

This topic needs understanding of concept of Individual in International law. It is only topic that require little understanding of Private International law, But only limited to individual rights in human rights law nothing else. Dont read individual property rights etc. Focus only on convention which grantees individual human rights and different mechanisms, like courts where they can go, What can be done by courts in pursuance of that. European Human right court is beset example of that.

For nationality, read different meaning of nationality, Uderstand the concept and different principle of nationality. What principle India adopts. Statelessness is related to refugees and asylum so combine this sub part with Topic 6.


Topic- 6: Territorial jurisdiction of States, extradition and asylum.

This topic includes understanding of meaning of jurisdiction in general, You must have studied it in constitutional law as well. Then understand why problem of jurisdiction occurs, like in case of transnational crime like hijacking, piracy for purpose of prosecution.

Then study different principle applied by state, there are two major principle active nationality principle and Passive nationality principle. Do read what principle India Adopts.

For Extradition and Asylum, Understand its meaning and component. Like Extradition have two component, Extraditable person and Etraditable crime. Also read major components of Extradition treaties. It have been in news a lot.

Asylum is sought once extradition process starts. Understand its meaning and international law reagrding it. Like what is the responsibility of state regarding human who is on the verge of being stateless. Human right Laws also have these provisions.


Topic -7 : Treaties: Formation, application, termination and reservation.

This is very straight forward topic directly relates to Vieena Convention on law of treaties (VCLT). The treaty document have Different chapters which can be studies provision by provision. Fairly simple to understand and those provision could be written directly in exam if there is a question.

Formation and application of treaty means, modes of formation and who is authorised too signed that treaty on behalf of country. What process a country follow to go into treaty under there domestic constitution. read especially with respect to India

Termination of treaty have almost similar ground as a termination of contract, there are few in addition like succession of states or dissolution of state etc.

Reservation is a separate concept needs to be studied in more detail as there have been direct questions on that, like what is the importance of reservations. There is a separate Chapter on reservation in VCLT treaty Document. read it


Topic - 8: United Nations: Its principal organs, powers, functions and reform.

Generally three type of questions area asked in this topic and those only those subtopics needs to be studied.

One involving the structural arrangement of United Nation as a whole, Membership, power function of UN and its agencies. But focus more on power and function of security council

Second subtopic involves philosophical on including does security council have overshadowed all the other organ, or reform needed in united nation. It current structure criticsm

Third subtopic involves India's Role in initiating reform and since independence how India have overall performed like its role in keep placing missions etc.


Topic - 9 : Peaceful settlement of disputes - different modes.

It is a simple topic and require undesrstanding of different modes of dispute such as arbitration, conciliation , judicial settlements etc. Not only you have to read about these meaning but also international conventions related to it.

Also read relative different in difference modes of settlement like why judicial settlement is more concrete than other modes. Read international forum for different modes of settlements, Like International court of justice (ICJ) for judicial mode of settlement of disputes.


Topic- 10 : Lawful recourse to force: aggression, self-defence, intervention.

This topic involves first understanding the concept of 'Lawful recourse'' It involves the situations where state are authorised to use force and is primarily governed by international law. You study what are those laws.

Then come to use of force in form of aggression, Self Defence and Intervention. For each of them there are certain principle to be followed. State can not blindly use force but have to conform with international human right laws. So this topic can be clubbed with human right laws.

Who will authorise lawful use of force in also to be studies. its mainly security council who authorises it. It can be clubbed with power and function of security council topic of UPSC Law optional syllabus of Paper- I, Referred as topic-8 above


Topic - 11 : Fundamental principles of international humanitarian law - International conventions and contemporary developments.

Topic is very jurisprudential in nature and only guide to what to study in this is previous year question paper. It also have contemporary part it in, which pertains to recent year current affairs.

For fundamental principle of IHL read general principle of humanitarian law, like principle of proportionality, Principle of protecting civilians etc. these are covered in different Hague conventions and General assembly resolution on the subject.

For contemporary development I would suggest following UN Human right watch website and especially read news related to India in that. Or if it too much for you keep visiting this website blog as Contemporary development in the field article will be posted here from UPSC law optional Perspective.


Topic - 12 : Legality of the use of nuclear weapons; ban on testing of nuclear weapons; Nuclear - non proliferation treaty, CTBT.

This topic relates to advisory opinion of International court of justice which was given regarding legality of Threat of using nuclear weapon, Which can be found on UN Website.

As to ban of nuclear weapon, first understand the different principle adopted for banning it. One is inductive other is retaliatory. Then study different treaty related to ban of testing specifically like CTBT.

For CTBT and Non Proliferation treaty, read the principle of these given in treaty document along with institutional structure for purpose of implementation Treaty provisions.

Although not given specifically in the syllabus, read various phases of nuclear weapon development and different approached adopted to abolish them apart from NPT type treaties. Like establishment of nuclear free zones.


Topic - 13 : International terrorism, state sponsored terrorism, hijacking, international criminal court.

International terrorism is very abstract topic and needs to be studied from India pak perspective. Also read different how it is a recent development and connect it with state sponsored terrorism topic. Read Specific International terrorism prohibiting conventions related to hijacking and piracy. Which state have jurisdiction to punish them?

For International Criminal Court Read the document creating it. Its jurisdiction and how far it have evolved since it foundation. Also there have been recent debate that it serves only US interest so read the need for its reform.


Topic - 14 : New international economic order and monetary law: WTO, TRIPS, GATT, IMF, World Bank.

This Topic is economic in nature combine this with paper -III of GS UPSC Mains Examination. But there are specific points you need to keep in mind. Here answers will be more legalistic so read the specific text and cite case laws as well. Like in case of WTO , There is a lot of case law which India in party too in WTO's Dispute Settlement Board(DSB)

For TRIPS combine it with study of international trade mark as recognised in our trade mark act. It have specific provision to it. It is there in contemporary legal development topic of paper-II of Latest UPSC Law optional Syllabus.

For world Bank and IMF, read it founding principle and major function. Sometime there is question of combined working of these three organisation i.e WTO, World Bank and IMF. How they are complimentary to each other.


Topic - 15 : Protection and improvement of the human environment: International efforts.

For this topic you study mainly the meaning of human environment like water, air etc and what are different international convention adopted to save it. first international conference on the human environment, held in Stockholm in 1972 remains the most prominent convention so do read that. It have around 22 principle, write in your notes at least five principle that you will write in mains exam of law optional.

For current international effort read what's new section of UN environment website and read topics related to South Asia.If there is an article related to India then it is more than good


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