International Law Commission International Law Commission

Last update: July 31, 2017

About the Commission

Origin and background

League of Nations Codification Conference

The intergovernmental effort to promote the codification and development of international law made a further important advance with the resolution of the Assembly of the League of Nations of 22 September 1924, envisaging the creation of a standing organ called the Committee of Experts for the Progressive Codification of International Law, which was to be composed so as to represent “the main forms of civilization and the principal legal systems of the world”.1 This Committee, consisting of seventeen experts, was to prepare a list of subjects “the regulation of which by international agreement” was most “desirable and realizable” and thereafter to examine the comments of Governments on this list and report on the questions which were “sufficiently ripe”, as well as on the procedure to be followed in preparing for conferences for their solution. This was the first attempt on a worldwide basis to codify and develop whole fields of international law rather than simply regulating individual and specific legal problems.

After certain consultations with Governments and the League Council, the Assembly decided, in 1927, to convene a diplomatic conference to codify three topics out of the five that had been considered to be “ripe for international agreement” by the Committee of Experts, namely: (1) nationality, (2) territorial waters and (3) the responsibility of States for damage done in their territory to the person or property of foreigners.2 The preparation of the conference was entrusted to a Preparatory Committee of five persons which was to draw up reports showing points of agreement or divergence which might serve as “bases of discussion”, but not to draw up draft conventions as had been proposed by the Committee of Experts.

Delegates from forty-seven Governments participated in the Codification Conference which met at The Hague from 13 March to 12 April 1930; but the only international instruments which resulted from its work were on the topic of nationality.3 The Conference was unable to adopt any conventions on the topics of territorial water or State responsibility. Although the Conference provisionally approved certain draft articles on territorial waters which later exerted influence to the extent that Governments accepted them as a statement of existing international law, it failed to adopt even a single recommendation on the subject of State responsibility.

No further experiment in codification was made by the League of Nations after 1930. But on 25 September 1931, the League Assembly adopted an important resolution on the procedure of codification, the main theme of which was the strengthening of the influence of Governments at every stage of the codification process.4 This underlying theme was subsequently incorporated in the statute of the International Law Commission of the United Nations, together with certain other recommendations made in the resolution, such as the preparation of draft conventions by an expert committee, and the close collaboration of international and national scientific institutes.

1 League of Nations, Official Journal, Special Supplement, No. 21, p. 10.

2 Ibid., No. 53, p. 9.

3 On 12 April 1930, the Conference adopted the following instruments:

1. Convention on certain questions relating to the conflict of nationality laws (League of Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 179, p. 89);

2. Protocol relating to military obligations in certain cases of double nationality (ibid., vol. 178, p. 227);

3. Protocol relating to a certain case of statelessness (ibid., vol. 179, p. 115);

4. Special Protocol concerning statelessness (League of Nations document C.27.M.16.1931.V).

Except for No.4, the above instruments have been in force since 1937.

4 League of Nations, Official Journal, Special Supplement, No. 92, p. 9.