An Introduction to International Institutional Law

An Introduction to International Institutional Law

An Introduction to International Institutional Law

An Introduction to International Institutional Law


International organizations are unusual creations: generated by and for their member states, at the same time they often have to compete with those very states that created them. This complicated relationship often leads to some uncertainty in the law relating to international organizations: the legal argument of an organization will often be counterpointed by an equally valid argument from a member state. Professor Jan Klabbers is mindful of this complex relationship in his comprehensive analysis of international institutional law. As well as describing the law as it applies to legal institutions in chapters that include dispute settlement, financing and treaty-making, Klabbers looks forward to a re-appraisal of the status of international organizations. This is a key textbook for advanced-level students of law and of international relations.


It was in the autumn of 1992, or perhaps the spring of 1993, when I received a phonecall from a former student of mine at the University of Amsterdam, now working for a solicitor’s firm in London. After the usual expressions of surprise and politeness, he asked me what I knew about the responsibility of international organizations under international law.

The short answer was: nothing. Teaching international law in Amsterdam, one was not supposed to inquire into the law of international organizations beyond the merest basics (personality, the legal status of General Assembly resolutions, collective security, that sort of thing); after all, we had a separate department (or section, rather) to cover international institutional law.

The one thing I did remember from my student days was that the law of international organizations was taught to us as a seemingly endless enumeration of facts (‘The Council of Europe was established in whenever’), numbers (‘The European Parliament has umpteen members’), abbreviations (‘IRO stands for whatever’) and generally incomprehensible phrases (‘Specialized agencies?’ Specialized in what? Agencies of and for whom?).

Indeed, leafing through the textbooks I had to read as a student, it becomes clear that general legal issues relating to international organizations had no priority. One of our textbooks addressed such issues, but in the part that was not compulsory reading for our exams. the other general textbook was more in the nature of a comparative review of internal provisions some organizations may have had in common, without emphasizing

This book was D. W. Bowett, The Law of International Institutions (4th edn, London, 1982). Recently, a new edition appeared: Philippe Sands & Pierre Klein, Bowett’s Law of International Institutions (London, 2001). Unfortunately, I received it too late to be able to do much with it.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.