International Organizations


International Organizations - Research Guide International Law

An international organization can be defined, following the International Law Commission, as an 'organization established by a treaty or other instrument governed by international law and possessing its own international legal personality'. International organizations generally have States as members, but often other entities can also apply for membership. They both make international law and are governed by it. Yet, the decision-making process of international organizations is often 'less a question of law than one of political judgement'.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research on International Organizations. It provides the basic legal materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's systematic classification → Public international law and subject heading (keyword) International Organizations are instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.

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  • White, N.D., The Law of International Organisations, Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2017.

    This book provides a concise account of the principles and norms of international law applicable to the main-type of international organisation - the inter-governmental organisation (IGO). That law consists of principles and rules found in the founding documents of IGOs along with applicable principles and rules of international law. The book also identifies and analyses the law produced by IGOs, applied by them and, occasionally, enforced by them. There is a concentration upon the United Nations, as the paradigmatic IGO, not only upon the UN organisation headquartered in New York, but on other IGOs in the UN system (the specialised agencies such as the World Health Organisation).



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  • Yi-chong, X., and P. Weller, The Working World of International Oorganizations : Authority, Capacity, Legitimacy, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018.

    International organizations (IOs) matter. This book uncovers the regular working world of IOs, examining whether, to what extent, and how these 'global governing bodies' can act independently of the will of states. This book explores this issue by asking who or what shapes their decisions; how and when decisions are made; how players interact within an IO; and how the interactions vary across IOs.

    The Working World of International Organizations examines three working groups in the higher echelons of IOs - state representatives, as proxy of states, serving in the Executive Boards or General Councils, chief officers of IOs, and the staff of the permanent secretariat. The book demonstrates that none of them are unified; in each there are contested ideas about strategy and appropriate projects, and analyses their interactions to explain who is able to shape or influence decisions. Six representative IOs are studied to identify the relevant critical determinants that shape the behaviour of players. The volume explores how these players have an impact over three dilemmas that are common to all IOs: priority and agenda setting, financing, and the centralization or decentralization of operations.

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  • Boisson de Chazournes, L., Interactions between regional and universal organizations : a legal perspective, Leiden, Brill Nijhoff, 2017.

    Cooperation through international organizations is fundamental to the international legal order. International organizations are nowadays ubiquitous and come in many different manifestations, each allowing for different levels of international cooperation. The profile of regional and universal organizations may vary greatly from one organization to another. At the same time, they do not live apart and this has led to the creation of a complex network of relationships. These relationships have seldom been the object of scholarship, and this volume seeks to address that gap. In general, the relationships between international organizations can include such questions as the conditions placed upon one organization by another, demarcations of competence, membership of other organizations, and various forms of collaboration involving the conclusion of agreements between organizations. Optimal coexistence, cooperation and coherence are among the requirements to ensure better governance. The volume concludes by analysing current issues, including issues of legal identity, responsibility and accountability and the development of a common law between organizations, and considers reforms as well as the prospects for international organizations and their relationships.
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  • Ferstman, C., International organizations and the fight for accountability. The remedies and reparations gap, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017.

    International organizations have increasingly taken on state or quasi state-like functions in order to exercise control over individuals and societies, most pressingly in contexts of conflict and transition. Their engagement in peace operations has progressively widened, with mandates now regularly including the protection of civilian populations and, in several new operations, containing peace enforcement responsibilities with active combat duties. This increases the risk that their conduct may infringe human rights and international humanitarian law.

    This book explores the ways in which the principles of accountability and reparation apply to international organizations. When considering whether international organizations are obliged to afford reparation and to whom it is owed, as well as what it entails, we are confronted with the challenge of understanding how the law of responsibility intersects with specialized regimes of human rights and international humanitarian law, particularly in its application to individuals. The justifications for organizational immunities and other limits on international organizations' responsibilities were conceived to ensure IOs independence from state influences and their capacity to engage in often difficult circumstances. Many, if not all, of these rationales remain relevant today, yet disciplinary, oversight, and judicial structures that exist in state administrations to promote accountability and forestall abuses have only partially been put into place for international organizations. At the same time, individuals affected by their conduct have had no, or only cursory recourse to domestic, regional and international courts and they have not been able to rely on their states of nationality to pursue claims on their behalf.

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  • Sinclair, G. F., To Reform the World : International Organizations and the Making of Modern States, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017.

    This book explores how international organizations (IOs) have expanded their powers over time without formally amending their founding treaties. IOs intervene in military, financial, economic, political, social, and cultural affairs, and increasingly take on roles not explicitly assigned to them by law. Sinclair contends that this 'mission creep' has allowed IOs to intervene internationally in a way that has allowed them to recast institutions within and interactions among states, societies, and peoples on a broadly Western, liberal model. Adopting a historical and interdisciplinary, socio-legal approach, Sinclair supports this claim through detailed investigations of historical episodes involving three very different organizations: the International Labour Organization in the interwar period; the United Nations in the two decades following the Second World War; and the World Bank from the 1950s through to the 1990s.
    The book draws on a wide range of original institutional and archival materials, bringing to light little-known aspects of each organization's activities, identifying continuities in the ideas and practices of international governance across the twentieth century, and speaking to a range of pressing theoretical questions in present-day international law and international relations.

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  • Moelle, M. P. , The International Responsibility of International Organisations: Cooperation in Peacekeeping Operations Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    The International Responsibility of International Organisations addresses the joint responsibility of organisations for violations of international law committed during the deployment of peacekeeping operations. More specifically, it inquires if and under which circumstances - in terms of the notion of control - international organisations can be jointly responsible. The author analyses the practice of international organisations (the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States) on an inter-institutional level, as well as in the field in the form of five case studies. The likelihood and distribution of responsibility between international organisations engaged in peacekeeping operations is affected by the different layers of applicable primary norms (Security Council mandates, internal law of the organisations, international humanitarian and human rights law). Although external pressure may contribute to enhancing the effectiveness of holding international organisations jointly responsible, any substantial measures and mechanisms can only be implemented with the participation of states and international organisations.

    • Proposes a new criterion of attribution for international organisations co-operating in peacekeeping operations • Adopts a holistic approach by analysing different levels of interplay between the UN and the regional organisations • Uses case studies to analyse the practice of international organisations (the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States) on an inter-institutional level, as well as in the field.


    1. Cooperation in peacekeeping and peace enforcement activities under the United Nations Charter; 2. The (emerging) system of collective security consisting of the United Nations and regional organisations; 3. From the broader legal framework to international responsibility; 4. The case studies; 5. The law applying in peacekeeping operations; 6. Conclusions and recommendations.

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  • Cogan, J. K., The Oxford Handbook of International Organizations, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016

    Virtually every important question of public policy today involves an international organization. From trade to intellectual property to health policy and beyond, governments interact with international organizations in almost everything they do. Increasingly, individual citizens are directly affected by the work of international organizations.

    Aimed at academics, students, practitioners, and lawyers, this book gives a comprehensive overview of the world of international organizations today. It emphasizes both the practical aspects of their organization and operation, and the conceptual issues that arise at the junctures between nation-states and international authority, and between law and politics. While the focus is on inter-governmental organizations, the book also encompasses non-governmental organizations and public policy networks.

    With essays by the leading scholars and practitioners, the book first considers the main international organizations and the kinds of problems they address. This includes chapters on the organizations that relate to trade, humanitarian aid, peace operations, and more, as well as chapters on the history of international organizations.

    The book then looks at the constituent parts and internal functioning of international organizations. This addresses the internal management of the organization, and includes chapters on the distribution of decision-making power within the organizations, the structure of their assemblies, the role of Secretaries-General and other heads, budgets and finance, and other elements of complex bureaucracies at the international level. This book is essential reading for scholars, practitioners, and students alike.

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  • Alvarez, J.E., "The Impact of International Organizations on International Law", Leiden, Nijhoff, 2017.

    José E. Alvarez, New York University Law School
    The Impact of International Organizations on International Law addresses how international organizations, particularly those within the UN system, have changed the forms, contents, and effects of international law. Professor Jose Alvarez considers the impact on sovereigns and actions taken by the contemporary Security Council, the UN General Assembly, and UN Specialized Agencies such as the World Health Organization. He considers the diverse functions performed by adjudicators – from judges of the International Criminal Court to arbitrators within the international investment regime. This text raises fundamental questions concerning the future of international law given the challenges international organizations pose to legal positivism, to traditional conceptions of sovereignty, and to the rule of law itself.

    "A masterfully crafted piece of scholarship that engages with the very raison d’être of international organizations. Written by one of the leading authorities in the field, this book provides an insightful, perspicacious and to-the-point analysis of the impact of international organizations in today’s international legal order while also shedding light on their weaknesses. A must read for all those whose work touches upon the law of international organization." ~Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, University of Geneva

    "The role of Public International Law, rooted largely in decisions of or relating to international institutions, has been steadily, quietly re-shaping international economic relations and other links between states and regions for decades. There is no greater authority on international organizations within the American law community than Professor José Alvarez. This volume illuminates these trends as well as their limitations and vulnerabilities. It delivers a first-rate, incisive primer on the field." ~David M. Malone, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Rector of the UN University

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  • Barros, A.S. (eds.) (et al.), "International Organizations and Member State Responsibility. Critical Perspectives", Leiden, Brill, 2017.

    Edited by Ana Sofia Barros, Cedric Ryngaert and Jan Wouters

    International Organizations and Member State Responsibility: Critical Perspectives is the first international public law book entirely devoted to the topic of member state responsibility. Throughout its ten contributions, it takes stock of the legal developments brought about by the International Law Commission’s work on international responsibility, and critically unveils the major remaining conceptual gaps in the field.
    The novel approaches offered in the book serve as a repository of the various understandings within academia and legal practice that reflect the evolution of the contemporary law of international (member state) responsibility.

    Contributors: Ana Sofia Barros, Cedric Ryngaert, Jan Wouters, Antonios Tzanakopoulos, Catherine Brölmann, Esa Paasivirta, Francesco Messineo, Ige Dekker, Jean d’Aspremont, Niels Blokker, Paolo Palchetti, Ramses Wessel, Tom Dannenbaum

    This Volume was previously published as International Organizations Law Review Vol. 12, issue 2 (2015).

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  • David, E., Droit des organisations internationales, Bruxelles, Bruylant, 2016.

    En regroupant des États, l’organisation internationale s’en distingue par sa personnalité juridique, ses régimes de privilèges et immunités, son aptitude à produire des normes liant ses membres. Ces questions sont examinées en profondeur dans cet ouvrage.

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  • Furtak, F.T., Internationale Organisationen : staatliche und nichtstaatliche Organisationen in der Weltpolitik, Wiesbaden, Springer VS, 2015.

    Dieses Lehrbuch gibt Dozentinnen und Dozenten sowie insbesondere Studierenden eines sozial-, geistes- oder rechtswissenschaftlichen Studiums einen detaillierten Einblick in das Thema internationale Organisationen. Der Text stellt Entstehung und Entwicklung, Ziele und Grundsätze, Organisationsstruktur und Finanzierung sowie Aktionsfelder von neun staatlichen (UNO, AU, ASEAN, EU, OAS, Europarat, NATO, OSZE, WTO) sowie acht nichtstaatlichen internationalen Organisationen (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace, WWF, IKRK, Ärzte ohne Grenzen, CARE International, Oxfam) fundiert, übersichtlich und verständlich dar. Der Band eignet sich besonders als Nachschlagewerk, zur Vorbereitung auf Referate und Prüfungen sowie als Grundlage für Hausarbeiten und Abschlussarbeiten.

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  • Peters, C., "Praxis Internationaler Organizationen - Vertragswandel und völkerrechtlicher Ordnungsrahmen", Berlin, Springer, 2016.

    Die Gründungsverträge Internationaler Organisationen unterliegen im Lauf der Zeit erheblichem Wandel, auch wenn ihr Wortlaut nicht geändert wird. Eine wesentliche Rolle kommt dabei der Praxis der Organisationen zu. Dieser Umstand lässt sich völkerrechtlich auf die Auslegung durch die spätere Übung der Vertragsparteien zurückführen - es sei denn, die Grenzen der Interpretation werden überschritten. Die Organe Internationaler Organisationen sind dabei mehr als bloße Versammlungen der Mitgliedstaaten: Die Voraussetzungen und Rechtsfolgen ihrer Praxis hängen von Zusammensetzung, Kompetenzen und Entscheidungsverfahren ab. Auf eine Analyse des einschlägigen Völkerrechts folgen Fallstudien aus der Praxis der Vereinten Nationen, ihrer Sonderorganisationen und regionaler Organisationen. So wird der Ordnungsrahmen für die Fortentwicklung Internationaler Organisationen durch Praxis systematisch dargestellt - ohne Gefahren für Legitimation und rule of law auszublenden.

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  • Ryngaert, C., (et al.) (eds.), Judicial Decisions on the Law of International Organizations, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016

    With the rising relevance of international organizations in international affairs, and the general turn to litigation to settle disputes, international institutional law issues have increasingly become the subject of litigation, before both international and domestic courts. The judicial treatment of this field of international law is addressed in Judicial Decisions on the Law of International Organizations through commentary on excerpts of the most prominent international and domestic judicial decisions that are relevant to the law of international organizations, providing in-depth analysis of judicial decisions.

    The commentaries written and edited by leading experts in the field of international institutional law, they are opinionated and critically engage with the decision in question, with commentators' and stakeholders' reactions thereto, and with later decisions, codifications, and reports.

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  • Hanrieder, T. , International organization in time : fragmentation and reform, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015.

    International Organization in Time investigates why reformers often pledge to unify international organizations (IOs), but end up fragmenting them instead. The book reconstructs the institutional history of the World Health Organization (WHO) since its creation in 1946. It theorizes the fragmentation trap, which is both a cause and a consequence of reform failure in the WHO. A comparison between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) illustrates the relevance of path dependence and fragmentation across the United Nations (UN) system. As the UN approaches its 70th anniversary, this book helps to understand the path dependent dynamics that reformers encounter in international organizations.

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  • Grigorescu, A., Democratic intergovernmental organizations? : normative pressures and decision-making rules, New York, NY, Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    This work posits that, over the past two centuries, democratic norms have spread from domestic politics to intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). Grigorescu explores how norms shaped IGO decision-making rules such as those driving state participation, voting, access to information, and the role of NGOs and transnational parliaments. The study emphasizes the role of "normative pressures" (the interaction between norm strength and the degree to which the status quo strays from norm prescriptions). Using primary and secondary sources to assess the plausibility of its arguments across two centuries and two dozen IGOs, the study focuses on developments in League of Nations, International Labor Organization, United Nations, World Bank, European Union, and World Trade Organization.

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  • Abbott, K.W. (et. al.) (eds.), International Organizations as Orchestrators, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    International Organizations as Orchestrators reveals how IOs leverage their limited authority and resources to increase their effectiveness, power, and autonomy from states. By 'orchestrating' intermediaries – including NGOs – IOs can shape and steer global governance without engaging in hard, direct regulation. This volume is organized around a theoretical model that emphasizes voluntary collaboration and support. An outstanding group of scholars investigate the significance of orchestration across key issue areas, including trade, finance, environment and labor, and in leading organizations, including the GEF, G20, WTO, EU, Kimberley Process, UNEP and ILO. The empirical studies find that orchestration is pervasive. They broadly confirm the theoretical hypotheses while providing important new insights, especially that states often welcome IO orchestration as achieving governance without creating strong institutions. This volume changes our understanding of the relationships among IOs, nonstate actors and states in global governance, using a theoretical framework applicable to domestic governance.

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  • Archer, C., International Organizations, London, Routledge, 2015.

    "What is the role of international organizations in the international political system? The fourth edition of the Clive Archer widely used textbook continues to provide students with an introduction to international organizations, exploring their rise and development, and accounts for their significance in the modern international political system. International Organizations fourth edition has been fully updated to take into account the considerable developments in the field since the last edition was published in 2001. It continues to offer an unique concise yet comprehensive approach offering students an accessible and manageable introduction to this core part of international relations. An authoritative guide to the literature about international organizations, it also provides advice on further reading"

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  • Virzo, R. and I. Ingravallo (eds.), Evolutions in the Law of International Organizations, Leiden, Brill Nijhoff, 2015.

    Because of their increasing prevalence and diversity, International Organizations (IOs) are one of the most striking legal phenomena in contemporary international law. Evolutions in the Law of International Organizations, is a collection of essays discussing the ever-changing nature of IOs. It covers all the many considerable practical evolutions in the law of, offers a discussion of theoretical issues and proposes solutions to many crucial problems related to these institutional developments. The book explores controversial institutional issues arising from recent developments in the complex international practice of IOs and includes contributions about the definition of IOs, the role of "soft" IOs and regional IOs, the reformation of international financial institutions, and the liability of IOs for their actions, among others.

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  • Dent, D.W. and L.C. Wilson, Historical Dictionary of Inter-American Organizations, Lanham; Toronto; Plymouth, UK, Scarecrow Press, 2014.

    Dent, D.W. and L.C. Wilson, Historical Dictionary of Inter-American Organizations, Lanham; Toronto; Plymouth, UK, Scarecrow Press, 2014.

    This updated second edition of Historical Dictionary of Inter-American Organizations covers the history of through a chronology, an introductory essay, appendixes, and an extensive bibliography. The dictionary section has over 400 hundred cross-referenced entries on important personalities, politics, economy, foreign relations, religion, and culture. This book is an excellent access point for students, researchers, and anyone wanting to know more about Inter-American Organizations.

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  • Hurd, I., International Organizations: Politics, Law, Practice, Cambridge; New York, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    Hurd, I., International Organizations: Politics, Law, Practice, Cambridge; New York, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    International organizations are at the heart of many global issues today. This new textbook looks at the leading international organizations and explains how they both shape and are shaped by international politics. The book examines three themes: the legal obligations that give international organizations their powers; the mechanisms that elicit compliance by their member states; and the practices of enforcement in the organization. Each chapter shows how international organizations work in practice and the interactions between them and their member states. This fresh text provides a comprehensive understanding of what international organizations do, how and why they do it, and the challenges they face.

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See also

More Research guides on International Organizations and Relations

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