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An intergovernmental organization (IGO) or intergovernmental organisation (see spelling differences), also known as an international institution, is an organization composed primarily of sovereign states (referred to as member states), or of other organizations through formal treaties for handling/serving common interests and governed by international laws.[1] 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 independent secretariat and instead rely on the parties for their administration, for example by setting up a joint committee. Other treaties have established an administrative apparatus which was not deemed to have been granted binding legal authority.[2] The broader concept wherein relations among three or more states are organized according to certain principles they hold in common is multilateralism.[3]

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:

Historicity and Evolution

The origin of IGOs can be traced way back from the Congress of Vienna of 1814–1815, which was an international diplomatic conference to reconstitute the European political order after the downfall of the French Emperor Napoleon. States then became the main decision makers who preferred to maintain their sovereignty as of 1648 at the West Phalian treaty that closed the 30 years’ war in Europe. But in the scholarly world, the origin of IGOs is most reflected at the birth of the League of Nations (LoN), which was the first worldwide intergovernmental organization founded on 10 January 1920 with a principal mission of maintaining world peace after World War I. The League of Nations was succeeded by the United Nations (UN) in 1945, which was also predicted on the notion that continued cooperation among states would ensure global security. This was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco, at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, and came into force on 24 October 1945. ([5]) Currently, the UN is the main IGO with its arms such as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the General Assembly (UNGA), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Secretariat (UNSA), the Trusteeship Council (UNTC) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Other IGOs include the Multi- National Companies (MNCs) like SHELL, Regional and Continental bodies/ blocks like European Union (EU), African Union (AU), East African Community (EAC) among others.

Expansion and growth

Held and McGrew counted thousands of IGOs worldwide in 2002[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

According to a different estimate, the number of IGOs in the world has increased from less than 100 in 1949 to about 350 in 2000.[9][10]

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

See also: Diplomatic immunity

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. Certain privileges and immunities are also specified in the Vienna Convention on the Representation of States in their Relations with International Organizations of a Universal Character of 1975,.[11] which however has so far not been signed by 35 states and is thus not yet in force (status: 2022).[12]

Rather than by national jurisdiction, legal accountability is intended to be ensured by legal mechanisms that are internal to the intergovernmental organization itself[13] 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.[14][15]: 77  Otherwise, the organizations’ immunities may be put in question in national and international courts.[15]: 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.[16]

The immunities also extend to employment law.[17][18] In this regard, immunity from national jurisdiction necessitates that reasonable alternative means are available to effectively protect employees’ rights;[19] 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.[20]

See also


  1. ^ a b Timothy M. R. Kukula, 2021, School of Social Sciences, Nkumba University- Uganda
  2. ^ Roger, Charles B.; Rowan, Sam S. (2022). "Analyzing international organizations: How the concepts we use affect the answers we get". The Review of International Organizations. 17 (3): 597–625. doi:10.1007/s11558-021-09432-2. ISSN 1559-744X.
  3. ^ Lavelle, Kathryn C. (2020). The challenges of multilateralism. New Haven. ISBN 978-0-300-25232-3. OCLC 1149484630.
  4. ^ "Saarc Secretariat".
  5. ^ Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justce
  6. ^ Held and McGrew, 2002: Introduction, pp. 1–21
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ Keohane, Robert O. (2020-05-11). "Understanding Multilateral Institutions in Easy and Hard Times". Annual Review of Political Science. 23 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-050918-042625. ISSN 1094-2939.
  10. ^ Eilstrup-Sangiovanni, Mette (2020-04-01). "Death of international organizations. The organizational ecology of intergovernmental organizations, 1815–2015". The Review of International Organizations. 15 (2): 339–370. doi:10.1007/s11558-018-9340-5. ISSN 1559-744X.
  11. ^ "Vienna Convention on the Representation of States in their Relations with International Organizations of a Universal Character. Vienna, 14 March 1975" (PDF). Retrieved 2022-05-18.
  12. ^ "Status: Vienna Convention on the Representation of States in their Relations with International Organizations of a Universal Character. Vienna, 14 March 1975". Retrieved 2022-05-18.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ 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. Pdf. Archived 2013-10-19 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ The success of which we cannot speak Archived 2013-10-19 at the Wayback Machine,, 11 September 2013
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "Van der Peet vs. Germany". Archived from the original on 2013-10-19. Retrieved 2013-09-15.
  19. ^ Waite and Kennedy v. Germany (1999) Archived 2013-08-25 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ EPO: no immunity in labor cases? Archived 2013-10-19 at the Wayback Machine,, 27 August 2013

Further reading