Nearly always, the first question asked about international law is, How can it be law if it cannot be enforced? To experienced international lawyers it is an old and rather tiresome question, not only because it is asked so often, but also because of the crucial assumption it contains. The assumption, of course, is that international law cannot be enforced.
According to news reports, Robert Mugabe, the head of state of Zimbabwe, was served with process while he was in New York City for the United Nations Millennium Summit, in a suit brought by Zimbabwean nationals seeking civil damages under the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA). The suit alleges that Mugabe orchestrated violence by his political party against its opponents, including beating and burning the plaintiffs or, in one case, the husband of a plaintiff, in order to stay in power at the time of Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections in June.
In July 2003, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of the United Kingdom invited proposals for a "Study into the Legal and Moral Framework for Marine Biotechnology Development in the UK." The study, when complete, should constitute a pioneering effort to deal with a growing and important field of international law that is poorly understood and researched but that is gaining considerable significance in practice, and poses complex legal, moral and environmental issues.