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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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6 Accountability

Jan Klabbers


International organizations, as has been mentioned before, have always been conceptualized as functional entities, set up by member states to perform specific functions, and ultimately subject to control by those same member states. They are given specific powers, and those powers form the limits of what they were supposed to do. Should an organization overstep the boundaries of its powers (act ultra vires), the decision or act concerned should be considered invalid.

This conception was happily embraced in theory, but its practical application received a considerable blow in the ICJ’s 1962 advisory opinion in Certain Expenses.164 At issue was peacekeeping by the UN upon recommendation by the General Assembly. Since this was not provided for in the Charter (which had only envisaged military action ordered or authorized by the Security Council), some important member states objected to having to pay for what they held to constitute ultra vires activities. The Court disagreed, and made two important claims. First, it felt that even if an activity were beyond the powers of a particular organ, it could still be within the powers of the organization at large. In other words, even if the General Assembly had overstepped its powers, this did not automatically mean that therewith the act was ultra vires – it might still be within the powers of the UN, as long as the UN could make plausible that a link existed between the act and the UN’s broader functions. If so, “the presumption is that such action is...

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