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An essay on the Accountability of International Organizations

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International organizations sometimes suffer from acute agency problems. Three exogenous methods of addressing those problems are considered: economic incentives, political accountability and legal accountability. For international organizations, the first is undesirable and the second inevitably weak. There is therefore an argument for heightened legal scrutiny of their actions. Yet international organizations have an unenviable track record of acting without regard to the most fundamental international standards of rule of law, and this article offers an unsightly catalogue of their legal aberrations. Moreover, the internal legal mechanisms international organizations have created ostensibly to hold themselves to account prove wanting at best. There may also be structural reasons why international courts and tribunals will never be able to conduct an adequate review of the important decisions international organizations routinely take. This makes those organizations' assertions of blanket legal immunity from jurisdiction of domestic courts appear increasingly inexplicable, as it removes all possibility of legal accountability. The supposed rationales for legal immunities of international organizations are reviewed and proved wanting. The conclusion drawn is that international organizations should be subjected to radically improved regimes of international judicial oversight, or their immunities should be abrogated in certain areas so that they may be rendered subject to the jurisdiction of the domestic courts of the countries in which they operate, or both. Measures of this kind may dramatically improve the quality of decision-making and accountability of international organizations.

Affiliations: 1: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Geneva,;, Email:


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