Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 29 - September 2023 عربى
Terminology Corner
Jus cogens/peremptory norms

Jus cogens, is a Latin phrase that literally means “compelling law.” “Peremptory norm” is a corresponding English term that refers to certain fundamental, over-riding principles of international law. They are considered hierarchically to be norms of “superior” value, distinct from the sphere of state-to-state contractual law, or other rules of international law, and are universally applicable and enforceable.

Jus cogens norms are cited and codified in the 1969 and 1986 Vienna Conventions on the Law of Treaties (VCLT). VCLT 1969’s Article 53/64 provides: treaty is void if, at the time of its conclusion, it conflicts with a Jus cogens/peremptory norm of general international law.”

According to the International Law Commission,

the peremptory norm of general international law (jus cogens) is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law (jus cogens) having the same character.

Human rights as Jus cogens

Within the principle that human rights are universal and indivisible, the multilateral human rights treaties constitute a source of jus cogens, particularly as non‐derogable norms emerging from treaties (see below) are universally accepted, adopted by a majority of states within either a global or regional treaty regime, and may not be derogated even in time of war or other public emergency.

The following is a list of the principles of human rights that emerging global jus cogens obligations:

  • The right to life (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 6)
  • The right to humane treatment (ICCPR, art. 7; European Convention for the
  • Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, art. 3; American Convention on Human Rights, art. 5.)
  • Prohibition of criminal ex post facto laws (ICCPR, art. 15; ECHR, art. 7; ACHR, art.9)
  • Prohibition of genocide (Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, art. 1)
  • Prohibition of war crimes (Geneva Convention IV, arts. 146, 149)
  • Prohibition of slavery (ICCPR, art. 8; ECHR, 64, art. 4; ACHR, art. 6.) 
  • Prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, language, Religion, or social origin; (ICCPR, art. 4. ICCPR, art. 16; ACHR, art. 3)
  • Prohibition of imprisonment for civil debt (ICCPR, art. 11)
  • Prohibition of crimes against humanity (ICC Statute, art. 7)
  • The right to legal personhood (ICCPR, art. 16; ACHR, art. 3)
  • Freedom of conscience (ICCPR, art. 18; ACHR, art. 12) and
  • The right to self‐determination (e.g., Namibia Advisory Opinion 1971, based on a series of General Assembly resolutions and state practice of decolonization.


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