International Law Teaching by Sienho Yee



Sienho Yee’s Homepage:

For “law school” in general, go to:

For student papers, go to:

1.  Courses. 

Currently I only give special lectures on (1) sources of international law and (2) international dispute settlement.

When I was teaching at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Law, I taught a whole basket of international law courses. The following is what I wrote when I was there:

I teach these courses in Public International Law and EU Law from time to time.

Currently I am teaching:

(1) International Law.  Focusing on the system, structure and methodology of international law, see Introduction below, Item 6 (mandatory reading); this is the introductory course that is the basis for a proper understanding of international law questions, and serves as the pre-requisite or recommended course for advanced courses in international law; anyone who plans to do something in the international arena or whose life may be affected by international issues (about everyone these days!) should consider taking this course with a rigorous professor, as a regular course, not a study-abroad course).  Topics to be covered: 1. Introduction: nature and history of international law;  2. Sources of international law (creation of international norms); 3. International law in the United States; 4. States and other international entities; 5. Allocation of legal authority among States; Foreign sovereign immunity and the act of State doctrine; 7. State responsibility -- injuries to aliens and international human rights; 8. Law of the sea; 9. International environmental law; 9B. International law on airspace (a short introduction only); 10. Use of force; 11. dispute resolution.

(2) International Dispute Settlement (pre/co-requisite: International Law); a detailed study of the ways and means of international dispute settlement, focusing on the International Court of Justice; required materials: (1) materials posted on TWEN; (2) Collier & Lowe, The Settlement of Disputes in International Law (OUP)).  This course introduces the essential issues relating to international dispute settlement, with an emphasis on inter-State disputes (i.e., disputes between governments). Part I introduces the essential mechanisms of dispute settlement (negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, adjudication, and UN mechanisms). Part II, the bulk of the course (about 8 weeks), focuses on the jurisdiction and procedure of the International Court of Justice, addressing in detail the entire process of a case before the Court: how States consent to the Court's jurisdiction, and procedural disputes arise and get settled, how the merits phrase of the case is dealt with, and how post-judgment remedies may be resorted.  Part III provides a rapid introduction to the International Tribunal for Law of the Sea and the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, and to some selected issues relating to the settlement of mixed disputes and private disputes, in mixed tribunals and in the United States courts.


Previously I also taught:

(3) International Crime and Punishment: Seminar (pre/co-requisite: International Law). Overview of the international system; substantive international crimes (focused on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; and mechanisms of punishment. students have produced excellent papers to be published, see Item 3 below; required materials: (1) materials posted on TWEN and (2) Sienho Yee (editor), International Crime and Punishment: Selected Issues: Volume One;  Volume Two (University Press of America); Suggested Advance Reading: Telford Taylor, The anatomy of the Nuremberg trials: a personal memoir  (1992)).  Topics to be covered: Part I: the international law framework: states; delimitation of jurisdiction; need for international system; sources of law; state responsibility vs. individual responsibility; jus ad bellum vs. jus in bello; international crimes vs. transnational crimes.  Part II, Crimes: the “general part”; aggression; genocide; crimes against humanity; war crimes; selected other crimes; defenses.  Part III, Punishment: national efforts; Nuremberg & Tokyo trials; ICTY & ICTR; special courts; ICC. 

(4) International Human Rights Law (strongly-recommended prior course: International Law (those serious about working in human rights should know that a solid background in international law is essential to effective promotion/enforcement of human rights).  Overview of the international legal system; concepts and philosophical foundations of human rights; contents of human rights and the mechanisms of implementation; Required course materials:  (a) Louis Henkin, Gerald L. Neuman, et al. (eds.), Human Rights (latest edition); (b) Louis Henkin, Gerald L. Neuman, et al. (eds.), Human Rights: Documentary Supplement (latest edition); & (c) Case supplement (latest edition). Suggested Advance Reading: (a) Robert M. Cover, Justice Accused (1975); (b) Albert Camus, The Plague (any version); (c) Jack R. Censer & Lynn Hunt, Liberty, equality, fraternity: exploring the French Revolution (2001)). This course attempts to survey all the important issues in international human rights law. It has four parts. Part one introduces the idea of rights from an historical, philosophical and analytical perspective. Part two attempts to situate human rights law within the international law system in order to understand human rights law properly. Part three, the main part, of the course is devoted to a study of the detailed contents of the international human rights law as found in international treaties, customary international law and other sources of law. This part explores the "primary rules of conduct" as well as other aspects of international human rights law such as adjudication and remedies. Part four explores issues relating to selected rights from a comparative (international, United States, and other national) perspective.  The course is designed to a rigorous one aiming to deal with some of the most important conceptual and substantive issues as well as selected important procedural questions.


(5) European Union Law: Basic Introduction.  Structural and institutional issues and the fundamental principles.  The European Court of Justice.

I have set up a home page for each course on TWEN where you can find a syllabus containing a detailed list of topics to be covered and sample exam questions and answers.  The Law School has an official course description for each.  You might have learned from others that each of these courses carries a heavy workload.  Personally I believe the workload is about right, and the courses are interesting and rigorous.  We all have to bear in mind that we are a law school, and the saying “no pains, no gains” rules in any venture, particularly law school.

(Related courses offered by other professors at the University of Colorado School of Law include: International Law; International Environmental Law; International Business Transactions; Commercial Arbitration; Comparative Criminal Procedure; Immigration; Civil Rights Law; Rights of the Child; American Indian Law; Labor Law.  Students may also take “Independent Research” in various topics of international law.)

2.  Independent Research, Externships & Fellowships.  I supervise “Independent Research in International Law” if a student would like to produce a publishable paper.  From time to time, I also supervise “externs”.  Students who are accepted as interns at the international tribunals might also get credit for “externships”.

3.  Research papers written by my students or my other supervisees on selected issues in international criminal law are being published under the title International Crime and Punishment: Selected Issues by the University Press of America, with two volumes already in print (see table of contents: Volume One;  Volume Two).

4.  Paper Presentation Program.  International Law Forum (; research papers are presented by varied speakers and discussed by participants.

5.  The alumni, students and faculty members of the University of Colorado School of Law have been in these projects:  (1)   Nuremberg Trial; (2)   My Lai investigation; (3)   International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (1 faculty member and 3 of his former advisees including 1 from Colorado); (4)   US Representative to the United Nations General Assembly; (5) United Nations Human Rights Center; (6)   Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; (7) International Monetary Fund; and (8) two Supreme Court justices were from the University of Colorado (one undergraduate; one law graduate) and they contributed to the development of international law and the US law on civil rights and civil liberty, among other things.

6.  An introduction to the International Law course follows:

International Law. By Sienho Yee (;  (c) 2001; All inquires: Email:

Required books: (1) Carter, Trimble & Bradley, International Law: cases and materials (latest ed.);
(2) Carter, Trimble & Bradley, International Law: Selected Documents (latest edition).
Recommended: (1) Ian Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law (latest edition); (2) Kent R. Greenawalt, Legislation: Statutory Interpretation: Twenty Questions (1999).  

Contents: I. Purpose and Goal; II. Nature of Public International Law; III. Summer Readings; IV. Course Books and Teaching Method; V. Career possibilities.

I. Purpose and Goal

Studying international law helps us to understand the phenomenon of international law and to become better citizens and, perhaps, world citizens in this globalizing world where no person or nation is an island entirely of itself anymore. Secondly, studying international law may qualify us as counselors to others as an actor in international society. A good international law scholar often finds him- or herself sought after, formally or informally, by high officials for advice. Thirdly, doing well in international law might provide one with the wherewithal to become a leader in world affairs, in international lawmaking and/or in intellectual inquiry in general. And if the angel of fortune smiles on you, you might leave some footprints, perhaps heavy ones, in the development of international law. 

By the time you begin to study international law, you probably have amassed an arsenal of legal tools. In the Public International Law course, you will have the opportunity to fine-tune these and to deploy them. You will also pick up some new techniques that are more or less peculiar to public international law such as "sources" of international law and/or the law-making process. Finally, you will also learn the essential substantive public international law principles relating to the structure of the world order and human rights, and, try to provide a rationale for most of them. In short, the course will be a fruitful one.

I believe anyone interested in pursuing a career that has something to do with the public order and/or something “international” should take a general course on international law with a rigorous teacher, as soon as possible.  Moreover, those who would like to take advanced courses without taking the introduction are advised that they might find it somewhat difficult to do so.  Without a solid training in the basics of the international legal system, it is very difficult to do a good job in human rights, international environmental law, or even international business.

II. Nature of Public International Law

Just as we argue about what is law, we argue about what is public international law. One view, which is sufficient for our present purposes, is that public international law is the body of rules and principles which are legally binding on States in their intercourse with each other, and binding on international organizations and individuals where appropriate. (This view presupposes what is binding, on which one may need to seek inspiration from the idea of the internal aspect of the law.) As a perceptive law student would observe, public international law is closely analogous to constitutional law; that is, it is the constitutional law of the world. Just as constitutional law is primarily concerned with public power in a national legal system, public international law is primarily concerned with public power in the international community. As the international community is far more complicated than that of any national community, public international law is more complex and, perhaps, slightly more difficult than one normally expects. But this is also the reason why public international law is more interesting. Another reason why this subject is interesting is that philosophy, international history and relations figure more prominently in public international law than in any other subject in law. There is ample room for one to achieve intellectual satisfaction, to dazzle his or her audience in this field, and to leave footprints behind.

II.A.  Topics to be covered

1. Introduction: nature and history of international law;  2. Sources of international law (creation of international norms); 3. International law in the United States; 4. States and other international entities; 5. Allocation of legal authority among States; Foreign sovereign immunity and the act of State doctrine; 7. State responsibility -- injuries to aliens and international human rights; 8. Law of the sea; 9. International environmental law; 9B. International law on airspace (a short introduction only); 10. Use of force; 11. dispute resolution.

III. Advance Readings (before taking the course)

We can say with confidence that a good understanding of international history and relations and legal theory will help deepen one’s understanding of public international law. And yet, the limited time of one semester would require us to presume that you are familiar with these topics. Those who would like to do some advance readings over the vacations, the following may be helpful: (a) Sienho Yee, Towards an International Law of Co-progressiveness, in: Sienho Yee & Wang Tieya (eds.), International Law in the Post-Cold War World (2001), 18-39 (email me for a PDF file if you cannot find it in the Law Library); (b) Anthony Clark Arend, Do Legal Rules Matter? -- International Law and International Politics, 38 Virginia Journal of International Law (1998), 107; and (c) Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (1995).

IV. Course Books and Teaching Method

The required course books for my section of the course are: Required books: Required books: (1) Carter, Trimble & Bradley, International Law: cases and materials (4th ed., 2003); (2) Carter, Trimble & Bradley, International Law: Selected Documents (2003-2004 edition). Recommended: Ian Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law (6th ed. 2003). You are required to bring these two required books to class. I recommend to you (you are not required to purchase, but anyone who considers him- or herself a good international law scholar seems to have a copy of this book) the excellent one volume textbook: Ian Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law (6th ed. 2003). In addition to hardcopy books, you might want to take advantage of the sources on the web, and I have put up a lot of great links in my homepage, Exploring the websites of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice will give you a good picture of what public international law is.

The teaching method to be employed will be the Socratic method. We will also experiment with some other methods, taking advantage of my teaching experiences elsewhere. We shall make adjustments as we go along. Our goal is to achieve a solid grasp of the subject at the end of the course. To that end, we shall let ideas and arguments prevail over other considerations such as style and image, which you have the opportunity to master elsewhere.

V. Career Possibilities

Finally, you might be curious as to what kind of careers there may be in public international law. First, the traditional employers of public international law specialists are international organizations such as the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, the UNESCO, etc. and the State Departments / Foreign Ministries around the world. Second, other government departments, such as the Defense Department, the Commerce Department, and the Justice Department (more specifically, the INS), also employ a large number of international lawyers. Third, now the proliferation of international courts and tribunals has produced great opportunities for those who aspire to be judges as well as to assistants to the judges, prosecutors and other staff attorneys. For example, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia now has a huge budget and employs a troop of international lawyers of various levels of sophistication. These three types of employers all have summer internships available. Fourth, almost every law school employs two or three professors of international law. Fifth, private practice and public interest work may also present some opportunities. The normal big firm practice is beginning to involve more and more public international law issues, such as immunity, choice of law, environmental impact statement, and human rights questions. The public interest litigation groups, environmental law groups and other NGOs all have a large number of international lawyers on their staff. Finally, there are also specialists in inter-State dispute settlement before the International Court of Justice. These great scholars seem to have the best of all worlds. I have posted a package of materials called “Careers in PIL” in TWEN (International Law, Course Materials section) including an article on general issues and a list of websites where you can find information about job vacancies.  You can also find information at this webpage:


VI.  A Word of Advice

I encourage all my students to try to produce a publication.  Producing a publishable paper is a comprehensive learning process: from searching for and formulating an interesting argument, to doing the dirty work of research, to writing our thoughts up, and polishing the piece to make it read nice.  Growing up from being able to write a very good paper to being able to write a publishable paper is an experience that truly there is no substitute for.  Moreover, publications open the doors to employment like nothing else does.

This is not easy but there are those who like the challenge.  During my first year at Colorado, several students in my general course and my seminar on war crimes were successful in this regard.  This pleases me a great deal.