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When Do-Gooders Do Harm: Accountability of the United Nations toward Third Parties in Peace Operations

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image of Journal of International Peacekeeping

The United Nations’ mandate in a peace operation can be multi-dimensional, ranging from ceasefire monitoring to investigating human rights abuses to post-conflict stabilisation and recovery. The exercise of wide-ranging powers comes with risks of failure and unintended consequences. Like any organisation, the UN is subject to flaws in decision-making that may result in harmful impact to the local population. Until recent times, international lawyers have paid scant attention to the UN’s potential to inflict harm in the pursuit of its noble aims. The expansion of the UN’s role over the decades has given rise to greater awareness of its accountability gap under international and municipal laws. The organisation’s response to recent claims from third parties illustrates the challenges that lie before victims in attaining accountability in a manner consistent with international human rights standards. This article examines the multifarious questions of accountability of the UN toward third parties in peace operations. It argues that greater accountability is most practically achieved not through attempts to close gaps in international law, but through giving effect to existing mechanisms by applying a balancing approach to immunity and strengthening internal oversight and redress mechanisms.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney,


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