by Hala Mounib

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International Organizations are assumed to possess international legal personalities that allow them to operate and represent themselves globally without the need for state authority. Subject to international law, international legal personalities are defined by the following (Władysław Czapliński, 2016):

  • Jus Tractatuum, which refers to the power to make treaties
  • Jus Legatonis, which refers to the right to receive diplomatic envoys
  • The right to present claims based on international responsibility
  • The right to use armed force

Formerly, legal personalities exclusively belonged to states. This was possible through the use of legal principle, municipal law statute or treaty, or through the state independently recognizing its own legal personality and sovereignty. Today, however, international legal personality proliferated to non-state actors and International Organizations following the evolution of International Organizations out of multilateral diplomacy (James E. Hickey Jr., 1997)

International Organizations began as ad hoc conferences and tribunals that utilized a very basic form of functionalism to operate, such as the Nazi Nuremberg trials of the mid-1940s, and grew to become institutions with distinct purposes, behaviours, and modus operandi which focused more on obtaining authoritative power through functionalism, neofunctionalism, and legal personality. This growth and acquisition of legal personality occurred due to the weakness that was experienced by ad hoc systems because of their lack of legitimate authority. The supreme influence and sovereignty of states trumped conferences and tribunals from being taken seriously or adhered to.

With the rise of unions, International Organizations began to shift their focus toward enhancing their treaties and statutes to include clauses that guaranteed legal personality status and authority over member states and organizations that have voluntarily signed and ratified said treaties.

Although International Organizations possess legal personality on paper, they are virtually void of any real authority. Veto powers that exist within International Organizations limit other member states from exercising their own influence. An example of this is the International Criminal Court (ICC). The major powerful nations have signed but not ratified the Rome Statute of 1998, making their nationals NOT subject to the ICC’s scope of investigation and prosecution. China and Russia, for instance, remain effectively outside of the Rome Statute, and since these three countries are permanent members of the Security Council, they are capable of vetoing the reference of a situation or war crime to the ICC. In this way, these countries have been able to protect other non-veto power countries. This major defect has allowed Sri Lanka to be protected by China and Syria to be protected by Russia (Richard J. Goldstone, 2014).

This proves that the legal personalities of International Organizations can still be overridden by the inherent sovereignty of states, that legal personality is only ever effective in theory and on paper, and reinforces the notion that countries exist, realistically, in a state of anarchy with no legitimate global governance or international police.


Featured Image Credit: By Vincent van Zeijst – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Hala Mounib is a Policy Research Fellow at the American Freedom Institute

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