An intergovernmental organization (IGO) is an organization composed primarily of sovereign states (referred to as member states), or of other organizations through formal treaties for handling/serving common interests and governed by international laws. IGOs are established by a treaty that acts as a charter creating the group. Treaties are formed when lawful representatives (governments) of several states go through a ratification process, providing the IGO with an international legal personality. Intergovernmental organizations are an important aspect of public international law.
Intergovernmental organizations in a legal sense should be distinguished from simple groupings or coalitions of states, such as the G7 or the Quartet. Such groups or associations have not been founded by a constituent document and exist only as task groups. Intergovernmental organizations must also be distinguished from treaties. Many treaties (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade before the establishment of the World Trade Organization) do not establish an independent secretariat and instead rely on the parties for their administration, for example by setting up a joint committee. Other treaties have established an administrative apparatus which was not deemed to have been granted binding legal authority. The broader concept wherein relations among three or more states are organized according to certain principles they hold in common is multilateralism.
Types and purpose
Intergovernmental organizations differ in function, membership, and membership criteria. They have various goals and scopes, often outlined in the treaty or charter. Some IGOs developed to fulfill a need for a neutral forum for debate or negotiation to resolve disputes. Others developed to carry out mutual interests with unified aims to preserve peace through conflict resolution and better international relations, promote international cooperation on matters such as environmental protection, to promote human rights, to promote social development (education, health care), to render humanitarian aid, and to economic development. Some are more general in scope (the United Nations) while others may have subject-specific missions (such as INTERPOL or the International Telecommunication Union and other standards organizations). Common types include:
- Worldwide or global organizations — generally open to nations worldwide as long as certain criteria are met: This category includes the United Nations (UN) and its specialized agencies, the World Health Organization, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It also includes globally operating intergovernmental organizations that are not an agency of the UN, including for example: the Hague Conference on Private International Law, a globally operating intergovernmental organization based in The Hague that pursues the progressive unification of private international law; the International Criminal Court that adjudicates crimes defined under the Rome Statute; and the CGIAR (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research), a global partnership that unites intergovernmental organizations engaged in research for a food-secured future.
- Cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious, or historical organizations — open to members based on some cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious, or historical link: Examples include the Commonwealth of Nations, Arab League, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, Community of Portuguese Language Countries, Organization of Turkic States, International Organization of Turkic Culture, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
- Economic organizations — based on macro-economic policy goals: Some are dedicated to free trade and reduction of trade barriers, e.g. World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund. Others are focused on international development. International cartels, such as OPEC, also exist. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was founded as an economic-policy-focused organization. An example of a recently formed economic IGO is the Bank of the South.
- Educational organizations — centered around tertiary-level study. EUCLID University was chartered as a university and umbrella organization dedicated to sustainable development in signatory countries; United Nations University researches pressing global problems that are the concern of the United Nations, its Peoples and Member States.
- Health and Population Organizations — based on common perceived health and population goals. These are formed to address those challenges collectively, for example the intergovernmental partnership for population and development Partners in Population and Development.
- Regional organizations — open to members from a particular continent or other specific region of the world. This category includes the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CLACS), Council of Europe (CoE), European Union (EU), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Energy Community, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, African Union (AU), Organization of American States (OAS), Association of Caribbean States (ACS), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Islamic Development Bank, Union of South American Nations, Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), Pacific Islands Forum, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization (AALCO) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Historicity and Evolution
The origin of IGOs can be traced way back from the Congress of Vienna of 1814–1815, which was an international diplomatic conference to reconstitute the European political order after the downfall of the French Emperor Napoleon. States then became the main decision makers who preferred to maintain their sovereignty as of 1648 at the West Phalian treaty that closed the 30 years’ war in Europe. But in the scholarly world, the origin of IGOs is most reflected at the birth of the League of Nations (LoN), which was the first worldwide intergovernmental organization founded on 10 January 1920 with a principal mission of maintaining world peace after World War I. The League of Nations was succeeded by the United Nations (UN) in 1945, which was also predicted on the notion that continued cooperation among states would ensure global security. This was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco, at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, and came into force on 24 October 1945. () Currently, the UN is the main IGO with its arms such as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the General Assembly (UNGA), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Secretariat (UNSA), the Trusteeship Council (UNTC) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Other IGOs include the Multi- National Companies (MNCs) like SHELL, Regional and Continental bodies/ blocks like European Union (EU), African Union (AU), East African Community (EAC) among others.
Expansion and growth
Held and McGrew counted thousands of IGOs worldwide in 2002 and this number continues to rise. This may be attributed to globalization, which increases and encourages the co-operation among and within states and which has also provided easier means for IGO growth as a result of increased international relations. This is seen economically, politically, militarily, as well as on the domestic level. Economically, IGOs gain material and non-material resources for economic prosperity. IGOs also provide more political stability within the state and among differing states. Military alliances are also formed by establishing common standards in order to ensure security of the members to ward off outside threats. Lastly, the formation has encouraged autocratic states to develop into democracies in order to form an effective and internal government.
Participation and involvement
There are several different reasons a state may choose membership in an intergovernmental organization. But there are also reasons membership may be rejected.
Reasons for participation:
- Economic rewards: In the case of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), membership in the free trade agreement benefits the parties’ economies. For example, Mexican companies are given better access to U.S. markets due to their membership.
- Political influence: Smaller countries, such as Portugal and Belgium, who do not carry much political clout on the international stage, are given a substantial increase in influence through membership in IGOs such as the European Union. Also for countries with more influence such as France and Germany, IGOs are beneficial as the nation increases influence in the smaller countries’ internal affairs and expanding other nations dependence on themselves, so to preserve allegiance.
- Security: Membership in an IGO such as NATO gives security benefits to member countries. This provides an arena where political differences can be resolved.
- Democracy: It has been noted that member countries experience a greater degree of democracy and those democracies survive longer.
Reasons for rejecting membership:
- Loss of sovereignty: Membership often comes with a loss of state sovereignty as treaties are signed that require co-operation on the part of all member states.
- Insufficient benefits: Often membership does not bring about substantial enough benefit to warrant membership in the organization.
Privileges and immunities
Intergovernmental organizations are provided with privileges and immunities that are intended to ensure their independent and effective functioning. They are specified in the treaties that give rise to the organization (such as the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations and the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the International Criminal Court), which are normally supplemented by further multinational agreements and national regulations (for example the International Organizations Immunities Act in the United States). The organizations are thereby immune from the jurisdiction of national courts. Certain privileges and immunities are also specified in the Vienna Convention on the Representation of States in their Relations with International Organizations of a Universal Character of 1975,. which however has so far not been signed by 35 states and is thus not yet in force (status: 2022).
Rather than by national jurisdiction, legal accountability is intended to be ensured by legal mechanisms that are internal to the intergovernmental organization itself and access to administrative tribunals. In the course of many court cases where private parties tried to pursue claims against international organizations, there has been a gradual realization that alternative means of dispute settlement are required as states have fundamental human rights obligations to provide plaintiffs with access to court in view of their right to a fair trial.: 77 Otherwise, the organizations’ immunities may be put in question in national and international courts.: 72 Some organizations hold proceedings before tribunals relating to their organization to be confidential, and in some instances have threatened disciplinary action should an employee disclose any of the relevant information. Such confidentiality has been criticized as a lack of transparency.
The immunities also extend to employment law. In this regard, immunity from national jurisdiction necessitates that reasonable alternative means are available to effectively protect employees’ rights; in this context, a first instance Dutch court considered an estimated duration of proceedings before the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization of 15 years to be too long.
- International financial institutions
- International organisations in Europe
- International relations
- International trade
- List of intergovernmental organizations
- List of organizations with .int domain names
- List of supranational environmental agencies
- Non-aggression pact
- Supranational aspects of international organizations
- Supranational union
- Trade bloc
- World government
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