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Basic Principles of International Law

When compared with domestic law, international law is less coherent because its sources embody not only the laws of individual countries concerned with any dispute but also treaties (universal, multilateral, or bilateral) and conventions (such as the Geneva Conven- tion on Human Rights or the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Security). In addition, international law contains unwritten understandings that arise from repeated interactions among nations. Conforming to all the different rules and regulations can create a major problem for MNCs. Fortunately, much of what they need to know can be subsumed under several broad and related principles that govern the conduct of international law.

Sovereignty and Sovereign Immunity The principle of sovereignty holds that gov- ernments have the right to rule themselves as they see fit. In turn, this implies that one country’s court system cannot be used to rectify injustices or impose penalties in another country unless that country agrees. So while U.S. laws require equality in the workplace for all employees, U.S. citizens who take a job in Japan cannot sue their Japanese employer under the provisions of U.S. law for failure to provide equal opportunity for them.

International Jurisdiction.

International law provides for three types of jurisdictional principles. The first is the nationality principle, which holds that every country has juris- diction (authority or power) over its citizens no matter where they are located. Therefore, a

U.S. manager who violates the American Foreign Corrupt Practices Act while traveling abroad can be found guilty in the United States. The second is the territoriality principle, which holds that every nation has the right of jurisdiction within its legal territory. There- fore, a German firm that sells a defective product in England can be sued under English law even though the company is headquartered outside England. The third is the protective principle, which holds that every country has jurisdiction over behavior that adversely af- fects its national security, even if that conduct occurred outside the country. Therefore, a French firm that sells secret U.S. government blueprints for a satellite system can be sub- jected to U.S. laws.

Doctrine of Comity. The doctrine of comity holds that there must be mutual respect for the laws, institutions, and governments of other countries in the matter of jurisdiction over their own citizens. Although this doctrine is not part of international law, it is part of inter- national custom and tradition.

Act of State Doctrine. Under the act of state doctrine, all acts of other governments are considered to be valid by U.S. courts, even if such acts are inappropriate in the United States. As a result, for example, foreign governments have the right to set limits on the re- patriation of MNC profits and to forbid companies from sending more than this amount out of the host country back to the United States.

Treatment and Rights of Aliens. Countries have the legal right to refuse admission of foreign citizens and to impose special restrictions on their conduct, their right of travel, where they can stay, and what business they may conduct. Nations also can deport aliens. For example, the United States has the right to limit the travel of foreign scientists coming into the United States to attend a scientific convention and can insist they remain within five miles of their hotel. After the horrific events of 9/11, the U.S. government began greater enforcement of laws related to illegal aliens. As a consequence, closer scrutiny of visitors and temporary workers, including expatriate workers from India and elsewhere who have migrated to the United States for high-tech positions, may result in worker shortages.

Forum for Hearing and Settling Disputes. This is a principle of U.S. justice as it ap- plies to international law. At their discretion, U.S. courts can dismiss cases brought before them by foreigners; however, they are bound to examine issues including where the plain- tiffs are located, where the evidence must be gathered, and where the property to be used in restitution is located. One of the best examples of this principle is the Union Carbide pesticide plant disaster in Bhopal, India. Over 2,000 people were killed and thousands left permanently injured when a toxic gas enveloped 40 square kilometers around the plant. The New York Court of Appeals sent the case back to India for resolution.

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