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Advanced Introduction to the Law of International Organizations

Jan Klabbers

The Advanced Introduction to the Law of International Organizations gives a nuanced overview of the legal mechanisms behind the operation of international organizations such as the UN, the EU and the World Bank. It offers perceptive insights by placing the law of international organizations in a political context and provides systematic discussion of a variety of relevant legal notions, ranging from the powers of international organizations to mechanisms of accountability. Written by a leading authority on the topic, it provides a concise and accessible examination of this developing facet of international law.
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4 Standard-setting by international organizations

Jan Klabbers


If one of the main reasons why international organizations are set up is to perform a specific function, it follows that they may be expected to set standards relevant to that function. Put simply, if the task of the WHO is to safeguard global public health,111 then it may be expected that the WHO can at least help define what “global public health” should mean, and may also express some thoughts on how best to achieve global public health. Here, however, a tension may set in with respect to the member states: these may entertain their own ideas as to what “global public health” stands for and how best to achieve it. And those member state ideas may be influenced by a number of domestic factors, ranging from the natural presence of disease-carrying animals on their territory to electoral support by pharmaceutical companies.

As a result, there are at the end of the day not all that many organizations that can actually enact instruments with the effect of law, in other words, general and abstract, applicable to the public at large, and with binding effect – the EU is perhaps the best-known example.112 In addition, some organizations (or organs thereof) can take administrative decisions: applying pre-existing law to situations brought to their attention. Here the Security Council of the UN is perhaps the most useful illustration. As will be seen, however, the line between law-making and administration is a fine one. A third category of relevant decisions relates...

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