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Subjects of International Law

Subjects of International Law

By subjects of international law it is meant that those entities which possess international personality. In other words subjects of international law are those entities that have rights duties and obligations under international law and which have capacity to possess such right, duties and obligations by bringing international claims. In past the matter was not much debatable because according to the contemporary circumstances and scope of international law only the states were qualified for international personality, but in near past along with the increasing scope of international law many other entities have been given international personality.

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Realist Theory

According to the followers of this theory the only subject of the international law are the Nation States. They rely that Nation States are the only entities for whose conduct the international law came into existence. The Nation States, irrespective to the individuals composing them, are distinct and separate entity capable to have rights, duties and obligations and can possess the capacity to maintain their right under international law. So, the Nation States are the ultimate subjects of International law.

Fictional Theory

According to the supporters of this theory the only subjects of international law are the individuals. For the reason, that both the legal orders are for the conduct of human being and for their good well. And the Nation States are nothing except the aggregate of the individuals. Though the rules of international law relate expressly to the Nation States but actually the States are the fiction for the individuals composing them. Due to this reason individuals are the ultimate subjects of International law.

Functional Theory

Both the Realist and Fictional theories adopted the extreme course of opinions. But Functional theory tends to meet both the extremist theories at a road of new approach. According ,this theory neither states nor individuals are the only subjects. They both are the subjects of modern international law. States, as primary subjects of international law, acknowledge rights, duties, and obligations, and can assert them through international claims.

At the other hand in the modern international law individuals have also granted certain rights, duties and obligation under international law and maintain the same by bringing direct international claims. Entities beyond states and individuals have acquired international personality, making them subjects of international law. This is because of the increasing scope of international law.


Analyzing the above theories philosophically suggests that Functional Theory appears more accurate. Considering the modern scope and global trends in international law, entities with international personality have received rights, duties, and obligations. This includes not only states and individuals but also other entities currently possessing international personality and those anticipated to gain it in the future.

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