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The Twilight of Customary International Law

James Patrick Kelly, Widener University - Delaware Campus


This article criticizes mainstream customary international legal theory as lacking authority and legitimacy. Few customary international law (CIL) norms are, in fact, customary. All customary law, international or otherwise, acquires its legitimacy from the normative belief of a community. Norms may be inferred from the repeated acts believed to be required using the inductive method. CIL, however, has become a device for judges, advocates, and self-interested states to deduce or create new norms without regard to the beliefs or participation of the vast majority of states and their people. CIL norms are constructed from non-binding resolutions and soft law instruments rather than widespread state practice or evident belief. In a diverse world of many different values, interests, and cultural histories valid CIL norms will be rare. The article suggests only more democratic consensual processes will produce effective norms in a decentralized international community without a consensus on values.

Suggested Citation

James Patrick Kelly. "The Twilight of Customary International Law" Virginia Journal International Law 40 (2000): 449.