Jurisprudence Political Law

Hard Law vs. Soft Law in International Law

Distinguish Hard Law and Soft Law in International Law

Hard Law

Means binding laws; to constitute law, a rule, instrument or decision must be authoritative and prescriptive. In international law, hard law includes treaties or international agreements, as well as customary laws. These instruments result in legally enforceable commitments for countries (states) and other international subjects. 

Soft Law

These are non-binding rules of international law. Soft law is of relevance and importance to the development of international law because it: (1) has the potential of law-making, i.e. it may be a starting point for later ‘hardening’ of non-binding provisions (e.g. UNGA resolutions may be translated into binding treaties); (2) may provide evidence of an existing customary rule; (3) may be formative of the opinio juris or of State practice that creates a new customary rule; (4) may be helpful as a means of a purposive interpretation of international law; (5) may be incorporated within binding treaties but in provisions which the parties do not intend to be binding; and (6) may in other ways assist in the development and application of general international law.

The importance of soft law is emphasized by the fact that not only States but also non-State actors participate in the international law-making process through the creation of soft law. Nevertheless, soft law is made up of rules lacking binding force, and the general view is that it should not be considered as an independent, formal source of international law despite the fact that it may produce significant legal effects. 

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