The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.

Soft Law

All resolutions adopted by organs of international or intergovernmental organizations (whether of a legal or non-legal nature) pertain to the body of “soft law.” Terms such as resolution , declaration , or decision are used almost interchangeably by international organizations.

The concept of soft law is used to distinguish its rules of law (sometimes drawn up unilaterally) from those considered to be the classic rules of international law, known as “hard law.” Hard law is based on rules and regulations developed and adopted with the participation and explicit consent of the States or other actors who will be bound by these rules. International treaties and conventions fall under this category of law, for instance.

International conventions


The legal definitions of the words resolution , declaration , recommendation , and decision are not strict. Nevertheless, it is possible to try to clarify the actual meaning of each of these terms, although their practical use may not reflect these variations.

Resolutions, Decisions, and Declarations

  • Resolution: This term is used to designate the entire set of norms that make up soft law, whether binding or not, and is used most frequently. Both decisions and declarations are resolutions.
  • Decision: This term is sometimes used to define a resolution that is legally binding. Hence, a Security Council resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter is considered to be a decision (Art. 25 of the Charter).
  • Declaration or recommendation: These terms describe resolutions that can be qualified as expressing a statement of intent. They do not entail any binding legal obligations.

It is important to make a distinction between the following types of regulations or resolutions, adopted by international organs:

  • Self-regulating resolutions are rules that directly affect the organ that adopts them, such as regulations on internal operations. In this case, the texts are automatically binding.
  • Non-self-regulating resolutions are rules aimed at regulating international relations. Theoretically, these texts are not of a binding nature, but they may have a status of law.

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