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International organisations and the rule of law

International organisations that represent collaborations between States are becoming increasingly more powerful, and they have an increasing impact on our daily lives. For example, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg established that minors have a right to legal aid immediately following an arrest and that a lawyer must be present at all times during police interrogations. The UN Security Council can impose a travel ban on anyone suspected of terrorism. Members of the Grotius Centre investigate how the law is applied by and within these organisations and how this can be improved.

Weapons and whales

Since the end of World War II, States have established international organisations with a large variety of responsibilities. International organisations have been established, for example, to enforce the prohibition on chemical weapons (OPCW), to promote world trade (WTO), to implement free trade and integration in Europe (EU), and to protect whales (IWC). There are currently more than six hundred of such organisations. In order to guarantee their independence, many of these organisations and their staff enjoy immunity from jurisdiction. But as their powers increase, they are also increasingly held accountable and even responsible. Should such responsibility be established before a domestic court and does this mean that the immunity of international organisations should be limited? Or are there other ways of realising accountability?

Wrongs committed during peace missions

The ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ have for years been litigating with varying degrees of success against the UN and the State of The Netherlands because they are of the opinion that the UN and The Netherlands did not do enough to prevent the genocide that occurred after the fall of Srebrenica on 11 July 1995. Haitians have failed in their attempts to hold the UN responsible for a devastating cholera epidemic caused by Nepalese UN soldiers. How can international organisations maintain their independence on the one hand, while on the other hand continue to guarantee that the victims of any wrongs committed during peacekeeping operations mistakes can have access to justice?

This is one of the central questions in the research of Niels Blokker and Nico Schrijver. They compared how different European States deal with immunities of international organisations and organised a conference to create a dialogue between various stakeholders. Case-law shows that the scope of the immunities of international organisations is interpreted differently in different parts of the world. Furthermore, the European Court for Human Rights has established certain criteria which international organisations must meet in order to retain their immunity. ‘Through this conference and a number of publications, we maintain dialogue,’ say Blokker and Schrijver. ‘In this way we hope to contribute to the improvement of the functioning of international organisations and legal certainty for private individuals.’

Mothers of Srebrenica in court in The Hague before their trial against the Dutch State. Dutchbat was responsible for defending the Bosnian Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. Srebrenica fell in July 1995 when the Bosnian-Serbian General Mladic crushed the enclave. Thousands of Bosnian Muslims were murdered. (Photograph: ANP / Koen van Weel)

Black list

Sanctions against States often affect the most vulnerable parts of society, while the leaders remain firmly ensconced in their privileges. This is why the Security Council increasingly chooses to impose targeted sanctions on specific individuals. But what happens if you suddenly find yourself on a black list as a suspected terrorist? You are not allowed to travel, your assets may be seized and your reputation ruined. But what if you are innocent? How can you make sure that your name is removed from this black list? Larissa van den Herik researched  judicial protection in the case of sanctions imposed on individuals. ‘The Security Council is an intensely political organ. However, now that it focuses directly on individuals, rules are required to protect the individual against arbitrary decisions,’ says Van den Herik. ‘For example rules about the burden of proof are required to be able to categorise someone as a suspected terrorist.’ Thanks to the advice of Van den Herik and Schrijver, in collaboration with the Watson Institute, a step in the right direction has already been undertaken: the Security Council has appointed its own Ombudsman. If someone is of the opinion that they are the victim of unwarranted sanctions, they can appeal to this Ombudsman. But this procedure is only applicable in case of terrorism sanctions and not to other sanction regimes, so there is still a long way to go in further disciplining the Security Council.

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