‘Here Be Dragons’: Mapping the Legal Contours of Jus Cogens in International Law

For all the debate that the topic of jus cogens has prompted in international law in the past decades and currently at the UN International Law Commission, it is astonishing how little international scholars have relied on elementary notions of legal theory and legal philosophy, a tendency which has only started to recede in recent years. This theoretical inquiry purports to be another modest step in the right path of reconciliation between legal theory and international law. After defining jus cogens and providing a theoretical scaffolding drawn from elementary works on legal theory, the household jus cogens prohibition of genocide is analyzed in light of such notions. As a result, jus cogens norms are characterized both as primary rules of behavior and as secondary rules of change for legal production, constituting an international public order that serves as a tool for international law to safeguard human security.