Intergovernmental organization

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An intergovernmental organization (IGO) or international organization is an organization composed primarily of sovereign states (referred to as member states), or of other intergovernmental organizations. IGOs are established by a treaty that acts as a charter creating the group. Treaties are formed when lawful representatives (governments) of several states go through a ratification process, providing the IGO with an international legal personality. Intergovernmental organizations are an important aspect of public international law.

Intergovernmental organizations in a legal sense should be distinguished from simple groupings or coalitions of states, such as the G7 or the Quartet. Such groups or associations have not been founded by a constituent document and exist only as task groups. Intergovernmental organizations must also be distinguished from treaties. Many treaties (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade before the establishment of the World Trade Organization) do not establish an organization and instead rely purely on the parties for their administration becoming legally recognized as an ad hoc commission. Other treaties[which?] have established an administrative apparatus which was not deemed to have been granted international legal personality.[citation needed]

Types and purpose

Intergovernmental organizations differ in function, membership, and membership criteria. They have various goals and scopes, often outlined in the treaty or charter. Some IGOs developed to fulfill a need for a neutral forum for debate or negotiation to resolve disputes. Others developed to carry out mutual interests with unified aims to preserve peace through conflict resolution and better international relations, promote international cooperation on matters such as environmental protection, to promote human rights, to promote social development (education, health care), to render humanitarian aid, and to economic development. Some are more general in scope (the United Nations) while others may have subject-specific missions (such as Interpol or the International Telecommunication Union and other standards organizations). Common types include:


While treaties, alliances, and multilateral conferences had existed for centuries, IGOs only began to be established in the 19th century. The first regional international organization was the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine, initiated in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.

The first international organization of a global nature was the International Telegraph Union (the future International Telecommunication Union), which was founded by the signing of the International Telegraph Convention by 20 countries in May 1865. The ITU also served as a model for other international organizations such as the Universal Postal Union (1874), and the emergence of the League of Nations following World War I, designed as an institution to foster collective security in order to sustain peace, and successor to this the United Nations.

Expansion and growth

Held and McGrew counted thousands of IGOs worldwide in 2002[2] and this number continues to rise. This may be attributed to globalization, which increases and encourages the co-operation among and within states and which has also provided easier means for IGO growth as a result of increased international relations. This is seen economically, politically, militarily, as well as on the domestic level. Economically, IGOs gain material and non-material resources for economic prosperity. IGOs also provide more political stability within the state and among differing states.[3] Military alliances are also formed by establishing common standards in order to ensure security of the members to ward off outside threats. Lastly, the formation has encouraged autocratic states to develop into democracies in order to form an effective and internal government.[4]

Participation and involvement

There are several different reasons a state may choose membership in an intergovernmental organization. But there are also reasons membership may be rejected.

Reasons for participation:

Reasons for rejecting membership:

Privileges and immunities

Intergovernmental organizations are provided with privileges and immunities that are intended to ensure their independent and effective functioning. They are specified in the treaties that give rise to the organization (such as the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations and the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the International Criminal Court), which are normally supplemented by further multinational agreements and national regulations (for example the International Organizations Immunities Act in the United States). The organizations are thereby immune from the jurisdiction of national courts.

Rather than by national jurisdiction, legal accountability is intended to be ensured by legal mechanisms that are internal to the intergovernmental organization itself[5] and access to administrative tribunals. In the course of many court cases where private parties tried to pursue claims against international organizations, there has been a gradual realization that alternative means of dispute settlement are required as states have fundamental human rights obligations to provide plaintiffs with access to court in view of their right to a fair trial.[6][7]:77 Otherwise, the organizations’ immunities may be put in question in national and international courts.[7]:72 Some organizations hold proceedings before tribunals relating to their organization to be confidential, and in some instances have threatened disciplinary action should an employee disclose any of the relevant information. Such confidentiality has been criticized as a lack of transparency.[8]

The immunities also extend to employment law.[9][10] In this regard, immunity from national jurisdiction necessitates that reasonable alternative means are available to effectively protect employees’ rights;[11] in this context, a first instance Dutch court considered an estimated duration of proceedings before the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization of 15 years to be too long.[12]

Strengths and weaknesses

These are some of the strengths and weaknesses of IGOs.



They can be deemed unfair as countries with a higher percentage voting power have the right to veto any decision that is not in their favor, leaving the smaller countries powerless.

See also


  1. ^ "Saarc Secretariat".
  2. ^ Held and McGrew, 2002: Introduction, pp. 1–21
  3. ^ Lundgren, Magnus (2016). "Which type of international organizations can settle civil wars?". Review of International Organizations. 12 (4): 613–641. doi:10.1007/s11558-016-9253-0. S2CID 152898046.
  4. ^ Shannon, Megan. "The Expansion of International Organizations" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Hilton Chicago and the Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, IL, Sep 02, 2004 <Not Available>. 2009-05-26 [1] Archived 2009-11-25 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Parish, Matthew (2010). "An essay on the accountability of international organizations". International Organizations Law Review. 7 (2): 277–342. doi:10.1163/157237410X543332. SSRN 1651784.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  6. ^ Heitz, André (November 2005). "UN Special number 645". Archived from the original on 2013-10-19. The French court said… The right to a day in court prevails over jurisdictional immunity
  7. ^ a b Reinisch, August; Weber, Ulf Andreas (2004). "In the shadow of Waite and Kennedy – the jurisdictional immunity of international organizations, the individual's right of access to the courts and administrative tribunals as alternative means of dispute settlement". International Organizations Law Review. 1 (1): 59–110. doi:10.1163/1572374043242330.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link) Pdf. Archived 2013-10-19 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ The success of which we cannot speak Archived 2013-10-19 at the Wayback Machine, brettonwoodlaw.com, 11 September 2013
  9. ^ Reinisch, August (July 2008). "The immunity of international organizations and the jurisdiction of their administrative tribunals". Chinese Journal of International Law. 7 (2): 285–306. doi:10.1093/chinesejil/jmn020.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  10. ^ "Van der Peet vs. Germany". Archived from the original on 2013-10-19. Retrieved 2013-09-15.
  11. ^ Waite and Kennedy v. Germany (1999) Archived 2013-08-25 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ EPO: no immunity in labor cases? Archived 2013-10-19 at the Wayback Machine, dvdw.nl, 27 August 2013