Selected Issues in Public International Law

The details
Essex Law School
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Sunday 17 January 2021
Friday 26 March 2021
21 October 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module follows on from the introductory module in Public International Law and builds upon students' knowledge and understanding of general international law. Students will apply their acquired knowledge to
selected specialist areas of international law: i) the law on the use of force; ii) the law of armed conflict and the environment; and iii) international human rights/international criminal law.

The Law on the Use of Force

Part I of the module will deal with the law on resort to armed force between States. Sadly, war has long been a constant of international relations and still features frequently in worldwide news. However, international law has gradually outlawed it in the 20th century, with a general prohibition on resort to international armed force being prominently enshrined in the United Nations Charter. This part of the module will explore the limits of such prohibition, its most well-known exceptions -- i.e. self-defense and authorizations to use force as part of the United Nations collective security system -- and the challenges posed to it by modern warfare and mass atrocities.

The Law of Armed Conflict and the Environment

Part II of the module explores how international law applicable to armed conflict addresses the ecological impact of contemporary wars, as well as how it regulates the exploitation of natural resources in conflict zones. Although traditionally considered as a low priority in legal efforts to 'humanise' war, conservation of the environment is increasingly regarded as a key concern both in peace and war times. Most recently, the topic of the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflict has been included in the International Law Commission's programme of work. This part of the module will examine the challenges posed by contemporary armed conflict (or 'new wars') to the existing international legal framework; the origins and developments of international humanitarian law protecting the environment (and the complementary role of international human rights law and environmental law); and the practice of international institutions, including the approach of the International Court of Justice in two landmark cases, i.e. the Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion and the Armed Activities Case (Congo v. Uganda).

International Human Rights Law and International Criminal Law

Part III of this module explores how international human rights law and international criminal law address gross human rights abuses (such as killing, torture, and rape) and international crimes (such as genocide and crimes against humanity). Since the 1990s, there has been something of a shift in emphasis from state responsibility to individual criminal responsibility and international responsibility. This part of the module analyses how the UN Charter System, the UN Treaty System, the International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Court are all being concurrently used in an effort to prevent and punish the ongoing gross human rights abuses and international crimes against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.

Module aims

The aims of the module are:

(i) to encourage students to be able to further apply their understanding of general public international law to selected special areas of international law;

(ii) to understand the international institutional framework in the topic areas listed;

(iii) to further develop the legal reasoning and analytical skills necessary for public international law;

(iv) to encourage students to develop their own interests in the further study and research of these special areas of international law.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students would be able to apply the relevant rules and principles of public international law to the special areas covered during the course. This would include the ability to:

(i) Discuss and critically analyse the general aspects of public international law to specialist areas of international law;

(ii) Explain, apply and evaluate the rules of public international law governing key issues within these specialist areas

(iii) Apply, analyse and evaluate the sources of public international law that are relevant to these areas of law

Module information

The course content will include the following specialist areas: the use of force; the law of armed conflict and the environment; and international human rights law/international criminal law.

Learning and teaching methods

This module is taught through a mixture of pre-recorded lectures and 10 weekly 50-minute small group tutorials. Each week before your tutorials, the module teaching team will make available on Moodle two or more pre-recorded video lectures that they have prepared and produced. In total, the duration of each week's video lectures will be approximately 50 minutes .In most teaching weeks, you will be expected to have watched these lectures before the tutorials, although some of these lectures may be designed to be watched after the tutorials to recap on material discussed there. The module teaching team will also produce and make available on Moodle short guidance notes for each weekly tutorial. These notes will introduce the readings that must be completed in advance of each tutorial and will contain tips to help you understand and analyse those texts. You will be expected to have completed the readings in advance of your tutorials. Your tutorials will enable you to discuss the readings in the context of specific tutorial questions, to obtain feedback on your pre-class preparation and to deepen your understanding of key concepts. To help you prepare in the best possible way for your tutorials, you will be completing regular Multiple-Choice Quizzes on Moodle. The quizzes will be based on the reading set for that week so that the quiz forms part of your preparation for each tutorial. The quizzes will enable you to track your progress, understand what you are doing well, and give you clear feedback to help you manage your studies and your progress.


  • Jan Klabbers. (2017) International Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Malcolm D. Evans. (2018) International law, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Practical   Multiple Choice Quizzes    100% 
Exam  Main exam: 24hr during Summer (Main Period) 

Additional coursework information

80% Exam (or take-home exam) 20% Multiple-Choice Quizzes

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
20% 80%


Coursework Exam
0% 100%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Marina Lostal, email: ml20391@essex.ac.uk.
Dr Marina Lostal, Professor Lars Waldorf, Dr Eliana Cusato
Law General Office, lawugadmin@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

Dr Isobel Roele
Queen Mary University of London
Lecturer in Law
Available via Moodle
Of 1284 hours, 0 (0%) hours available to students:
1284 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information
Essex Law School

Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.