Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

Accountability of International Organizations: Some Observations

Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

Accountability of International Organizations: Some Observations

Article excerpt


The discussion here will be limited to intergovernmental organizations. The topic is timely, for there remain ambiguities regarding the accountability of such organizations to their members or third parties, or the accountability of the members of these organizations and third parties to the organizations, and the necessary mechanisms and procedures to ensure such accountability.

The issues this topic raises have been subjected to recent scrutiny and debate by international lawyers, (1) but more scholarly analysis is needed to clarify the issues further and provide firm guidelines for action. First, however, we must distinguish between accountability, responsibility, and legal liability. The definitions are not clear. Second, as the mandate and the role of international organizations (IOs), and thus the range and scope of their activities, differ among them, these variables must be considered in determining their accountability. Third, we must answer broadly the question, "accountability to whom?" Those addressed should include IOs and their staff, both member-states and non-members, international and domestic courts, national parliaments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and private parties (including legal persons). Fourth, we need to further explore the existing mechanisms and procedures for holding international organizations accountable and, as required, new mechanisms and procedures should be fashioned. And, finally, we need to consider perhaps the most difficult issue: who can and should determine the question of the validity of the U.N. Security Council's actions? And, assuming the action is deemed to have exceeded the Security Council's mandate and powers, can it be invalidated--by whom and with what outcomes?

Let me illustrate the controversies and ambiguities that abound as we study this subject. Questions have arisen about the accountability, responsibility, and legal liability of the United Nations or its constituent organs, such as the Security Council, the U.N. member states, and individuals for alleged violations of human rights and humanitarian law regarding U.N. peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and peace-building operations, as well as economic sanctions imposed by the Security Council. Who is responsible and to what extent for tortious acts? Privileges and immunities accorded to the United Nations are implicated. However, normally, prior to the commencement of such operations, the United Nations also negotiates a more comprehensive agreement on privileges and immunities directly with each host state.

Similar questions have been raised concerning alleged ordinary tort and breach of contract claims as well as claims related to alleged human rights violations against other IOs. Also, critics of globalization continue to demonstrate and shout that there is a lack of openness and transparency in World Trade Organization (WTO) decisionmaking, especially its dispute resolution mechanisms, which they find undemocratic and unacceptable. The arbitration process and its outcomes in investor disputes in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) setting under its chapter 11, which have been subjects of discussion in several recent international law conferences, have been similarly denounced for the lack of transparency in NAFTA's decisionmaking, especially its dispute resolution processes.

In this address, I will confine my remarks first to addressing briefly the U.N. issues pertaining to peacekeeping, peace-enforcement, peace-building, and economic sanctions; next, to commenting on the accountability of other international organizations; and finally, to reporting on the recently concluded study of the International Law Association on the subject.


A. U.N. Peacekeeping and Enforcement Operations

In the aftermath of the Cold War, as the U.N. peacekeeping operations expanded in size, scope, and diversity of functions they perform, the application of international humanitarian law to such operations is increasingly recognized as necessary and important. …

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