Student-written International Law Exam Questions - Fall 2003

One or more of the following questions will appear on the final exam as either a required or an optional question.

Note that some of these questions may have been edited and thus may differ in material ways from the versions submitted.   Read them carefully even if you wrote them!  I should also note that in certain cases I believe I have spotted (or added) an issue or two that was not in the outline answer provided.

As regards the questions submitted but not included on this list, the majority of them asked for essays that seemed to me to be impossible to write a decent answer in a hour; some others were very well written but seemed to invite answers that focused primarily on political or strategic considerations rather than legal ones; a few were either very hard to understand, were set in the future (law changes....), or required counter-factual hypotheses that seemed very contrived.  Thank you all for taking this assignment seriously, and for your hard work.


The Kingdom of Ruritania has decided that the best defense is a good offense. Accordingly, it sends spies to assassinate all foreign heads of state that are “actual or suspected enemies of Ruritania.”

Several other countries begin to take similar measures, each attempting to kill the head of an enemy state. Some succeed.  

Contrania is a state sharing a border with Ruritania.  The Prime Minister of Contraria was recently assassinated, and Contrainian intelligence reports that Ruritanian spies are responsible for the murder.   Contrania therefore makes its own, unsuccessful, attempt on the life of the Ruritanian leader.  

Contrania then decides to lodge a complaint with the Security Council of the United Nations, pursuant to Article 35 of the U.N. Charter, claiming that Ruritania is “violating international law” by its policy of assassination.

Ruritania responds by arguing before the Security Council that:
1.    the “custom” among states of not assassinating heads of state has changed due to recent events, and
2.    its policy of assassinating heads of state falls within the provisions of Article 51, “self-defense,” in a broad understanding of preemptive self-defense.

How should Contraria respond?


In 1990, the President  of the United States signed, and the Senate ratified, a treaty with Captain Hook, the ruler of Neverland following a military coup. One of the provisions of this agreement provided for the extension of the customs waters of the United States to include the territorial waters of Neverland.

In 1991, Peter Pan and his Lost Boys wrested control of Neverland from Hook, who fled to the United States to avoid charges of torturing some of the Lost Boys. Later that same year, Congress, overriding a Presidential veto, passed the Pixie Dust on the High Seas Act, which made the possession of pixie dust with the intent to distribute a crime.

Shortly thereafter, Neverland’s Head of State and the President of the United States signed an executive agreement agreeing that the customs waters of the United States would no longer extend to the territorial waters of Neverland.

Last week, the US Coast Guard, on patrol inside the territorial waters of Neverland, exercised what it called its “right of approach” on a flagless vessel carrying Tinkerbell and four and a half tons of pixie dust. Upon inspection, the Coast Guard found the boat to be of Neverland registry.   Tinkerbell was returned to the United States and charged with possession of pixie dust with intent to distribute. Neverland has objected to this.

In all of the following, assume Neverland is a party to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

1. [60%] Which if any of the US actions described above were legal under international law?  Which if any were illegal under international law?

2. [20%] As a matter of US domestic law, does the US have jurisdiction to prosecute Tinkerbell for violation of the Pixie Dust on the High Seas Act?

3. [20%] Suppose Tinkerbell argues, and the Neverland Head of State confirms, that the pixie dust was property of the Neverland government, that Tinkerbell is an agent of the state of Neverland, and that the dust was to be sold to raise money for the State of Neverland’s government-run  Home for Aged Crocodiles.  Would this change your answer to any of the above?  Why or why not?


[Global discontent is threatening the security of Middle Earth.  A war is brewing between the People's Republic of Rohan and the Nation of Mordor.  The success of this war largely depends on the possession of one golden ring.]

In anticipation of a war with the People's Republic of Rohan, the Nation of Mordor adopted Mordor Law No. 222, authorizing the Mordor government to "nationalize all golden rings belonging to foreign citizens who will not swear allegiance to Sauron as their king."  In accordance with this law, the Mordor Army seized a golden ring from Gollum, a citizen of Mordor.  Gollum had previously stolen the ring from Frodo Baggins, a citizen of the United States of the Shire.  The ring had been entrusted to Frodo's care by Aragorn, a citizen of Rohan.  

After attempting diplomatic recovery of his ring, Aragorn brought an action for conversion in the Court of Rohan, against the present possessor of the ring, Sauron.  Aragorn alleges that he is the direct descendent of the original owner of the ring, and that he is the rightful owner of the ring by reason of familial succession.  Sauron contends that even if Aragorn can prove ownership of the ring by familial succession, the Court of Rowan is barred from granting any relief by reason of the Act of State Doctrine.

The Supreme Court of the People's Republic of Rohan considers the non-justiciability of acts of foreign states to be a principle of international law.  However, it is against Rohan domestic policy and laws to nationalize property without affording adequate compensation.  In accordance with these policies, the Republic of Rohan has a law prohibiting its courts from applying the act of state doctrine, if the challenged state act is in violation of well established principles of international law.  Rohan Law No. 334 states:  

"Courts in the Republic of Rowan shall not rely upon the act of state doctrine to decline to adjudicate a case in which a claim of title or other right to property is asserted based on a confiscation, or other taking, in violation of the principles of international law."

(1) Please explain whether Sauron's use of the Act of State Doctrine should succeed in barring Aragorn's claim?  In doing so, please discuss the effect of the Mordor Law 222, if it is declared in violation of international law by the Court of Rohan?  

(2) Would your answer change if, since the commencement of this suit, the Nation of Mordor has collapsed and a new regime has emerged?


Could the European Union (EU) –  as it currently stands and without taking its planned enlargement into consideration – be considered a state under International Law, like the US is presently?


Consider the Bush Administration’s New National Security Strategy of the United States, as stated on the bottom of page 994 in the casebook:
    “We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends…
    For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can take actions to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of preemption on the existence of an imminent threat – most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack.
    We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries.
    The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.
    The United States will not use force in all cases to preempt emerging threats, nor should nations use preemption as a pretext for aggression. Yet in an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather.
    We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions. To support preemptive options, we will:
    - build better, more integrated intelligence capabilities to provide timely, accurate information on threats, wherever they may emerge;
    - coordinate closely with allies to form a common assessment of the most dangerous threats; and
    - continue to transform our military forces to ensure our ability to conduct rapid and precise operations to achieve decisive results.
    The purpose of our actions will always be to eliminate a specific threat to the United States or our allies and friends. The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just.”

Given the history and facts surrounding Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, was the US justified under International Law in taking preemptive measures against Iraq in 2003? Why or why not?


    Two years ago, the countries of Urbania, Resourcia, Factoria, and the United States entered into a multilateral free trade and fair working conditions agreement (the "FTFWC"). The terms of the agreement ensure the free movement of goods and prohibit workers from putting in more than 85 hours of work per week, with an exception for lawyers, and provides for a minimum wage equivalent to US $5.00.  The trade agreement was signed and ratified by all the parties.

    Prior to the agreement, all of the signatory states, along with the majority of other non-signatory states had minimum wage requirements substantially similar to those in the agreement.

    Nearby Lowagea has decided not to join the FTFWC.  The United States and Urbania continue to trade with Lowagea, as it has a huge supply of Reallineed, manufactured by a state-owned company.  Lowagea has never agreed that the minimum wage is a good thing and has never provided one.  It was recently discovered that Reallineed can be used in cell phones as a radiation buffer; in order to encourage other countries to buy more Reallineed, Lowagea began having its Reallineed manufacturers work 100 hours a week for $.75 an hour in order to decrease its production costs.  Although the Lowegean constitution proclaims the absolute rights of the workers, it appears that workers who refuse to work for all of their assigned periods are being chained to their machines without food, water, or bathroom breaks until they are finished.
    Last year, New York State passed a statute prohibiting any persons or companies subject to NY state jurisdiction from trading with Lowagea or any other country that trades with Lowagea.  Urbania alleges that as a result of this statute, the United States is in breach of the FTFWC.  Resourcia alleges that Lowagea is in violation of international law.  

    Discuss the validity of these allegations, whether and how they might be decided, and also any other legal issues arising from these facts which seem likely to have legal consequences.


    John Doe, a citizen of both Canada and Syria, claims that in 2002 he was detained at Kennedy International Airport in New York by United States authorities while on his way home to Toronto after a family vacation abroad.  Doe alleges that the US authorities then flew him to Syria and handed him over to Syrian authorities, who tortured him for one year in order to extricate information about his alleged links to an Al Qaeda sleeper cell in Canada.  John Doe was released by Syrian authorities after one year because they concluded he had no link to Al Qaeda.  Doe states that he repeatedly begged US authorities not to send him to Syria because he would be tortured or killed there.

    Advise Doe as to his legal recourse, if any, against the United States government.