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Privileges and Immunities of the World Health Organization

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Practice and Challenges

image of International Organizations Law Review

This paper presents a brief overview of the World Health Organization’s experience with privileges and immunities, focusing on the sources of its privileges and immunities and the challenges encountered in asserting them and securing their respect. This overview will demonstrate how complex and sometimes elusive the legal protection afforded to the WHO can be. Although the rationale for the WHO’s privileges and immunities is constitutionally founded on the notion of functional necessity,1 the scope and limits of its functions can be blurred or shifting. While the WHO has not faced the dramatic challenges to or denials of its privileges and immunities that other organizations have encountered, the trend of progressive erosion of legal protection in the name of accountability, democratic control by national courts, the protection of human rights and shifting perceptions of the ‘added value’ of international organizations may eventually require a conscious and strategic revision by the international community of the model of international cooperation represented by international organizations.

Affiliations: 1: Legal Counsel, World Health Organization, Adjunct Professor, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,; 2: Legal Officer, World Health Organization


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