The Swedish Institute of International Law was founded by a donation from the Swedish diplomat Harry Axelsson Iohnson in 1927. The Institute is also called the Harry Axelsson Iohnson Institute.

Mr. Iohnson was of the opinion that peace among nations depended much upon the development of international law and its dissemination to a wider public. In order to promote the scientific study of international law he established this Institute by a donation to the University of Uppsala to be governed by professors in public international law at Faculty of Law.

He also thought that a relationship between those Faculty members and members of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be fruitful. This is reflected in the composition of the Board of Directors of the Institute. The Institute pursues a number of activities in order to promote the study of public international law and makes its endeavours known through its publication series, lectures and seminars and other events

At present, the Faculty of Law has three professors in public international law: Iain Cameron, Inger Österdahl and Rebecca Thorburn Stern. The assignment as Director of the Institute rotates among the professors. The Director is the spokesperson of the Institute and serves as coordinator for the public international law milieu at the Faculty.