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An intergovernmental organization (or international governmental organization; IGO) is an organization composed primarily of sovereign states (referred to as member states), or of other intergovernmental organizations. Intergovernmental organizations are often called international organizations, although that term may also include international nongovernmental organization such as international nonprofit organizations or multinational corporations.

Intergovernmental organizations are an important aspect of public international law. IGOs are established by 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 in a legal sense should be distinguished from simple groupings or coalitions of states, such as the G8 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 organization and instead rely purely on the parties for their administration becoming legally recognized as an ad hoc commission. Other treaties have established an administrative apparatus which was not deemed to have been granted international legal personality.

Types and purposes[edit]

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 Organization for Standardization and other standards organizations). Common types include:

Some organizations, such as NATO, have collective security or mutual defense provisions.

The Union of International Associations publishes an annual directory of organizations and provides ancillary information on most international organizations, both intergovernmental and non-governmental.


United Nations[edit]

Main article: United Nations


  1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
  2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
  3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
  4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.[1]


193 Member States. Membership is "...open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations."[2]

North Atlantic Treaty Organization[edit]


"The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments. They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area. They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security. They therefore agree to this North Atlantic Treaty."[3]


"NATO is an Alliance that consists of 28 independent member countries."[4]

World Bank[edit]

Main article: World Bank


  • To end extreme poverty, the Bank's goal is to decrease the percentage of people living with less than $1.25 a day to no more than 3 percent by 2030.
  • To promote shared prosperity, the goal is to promote income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the population in each country.[5]


188 member countries made up of government-owned organizations.[6]


While treaties, alliances, and multilateral conferences had existed for centuries, IGOs only began to be established in the 19th century. Among the first were the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine, initiated in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, and the future International Telegraph Union, which was founded by the signing of the International Telegraph Convention by 20 countries in May 1865. Of notable significance was the emergence of the League of Nations following World War One, designed as an institution to foster collective security in order to sustain peace.

Expansion and growth[edit]

Held and McGrew (2002) counted more than 6 743[7] IGOs worldwide, and this number continues to rise. This increase may be attributed to globalization, which increases and encourages the cooperation among and within states. Globalization 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.[8]

Participation and involvement[edit]

There are several different reasons a state may choose membership in an intergovernmental organization. But there are also reasons membership may be rejected. These reasons are explored in the sections below.

Reasons for participation:

  1. Economic rewards: In the case of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), many different countries receive economic benefits from membership in the free trade agreement. For example, Mexican companies are given better access to U.S. markets due to their membership.
  2. Political influence: Smaller countries, such as Portugal and the Netherlands, 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 they are beneficial as the nation increases influence in the smaller countries' internal affairs and expanding other nations dependence on themselves, so to preserve allegiance
  3. Security: Membership in an IGO such as NATO gives security benefits to member countries. This provides an arena where political differences can be resolved.
  4. Improve democracy and the likelihood of democratic survival: It has been noted that member countries experience a greater degree of democracy and those democracies survive longer.

Reasons for rejecting membership:

  1. Loss of sovereignty: Membership often comes with a loss of state sovereignty as treaties are signed which require cooperation on the part of all member states.
  2. Insufficient benefits: Often membership does not bring about substantial enough benefits to warrant membership in the organization.

Privileges and immunities[edit]

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.

Rather than by national jurisdiction, legal accountability is intended to be ensured by legal mechanisms that are internal to the intergovernental organization itself[9] 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 alternate 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.[10][11] Otherwise, the organizations' immunities may be put in question in national and international courts.[12] 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.[13]

The immunities also extend to employment law.[14][15] In this regard, immunity from national jurisdiction necessitates that reasonable alternative means are available to effectively protect employees' rights;[16] in this context, a first instance Dutch court considered an estimated duration of proceedings before the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organisation of 15 years to be too long.[17]

Strengths and weaknesses[edit]

These are some of the strengths and weaknesses of IGOs:


  1. They hold state authority.
  2. Their institutions are permanent.
  3. They provide a forum for discussion.
  4. They are issue specific.
  5. They provide information.
  6. They allow multilateral cooperation.


  1. Membership is limited. Prohibits the membership of private citizens. This makes IGOs undemocratic. In addition, not all IGOs allow universal membership.
  2. IGOs often overlap resulting in a complex network.
  3. States have to give up part of their sovereignty, which weakens the state's ability to assert its authority.
  4. Inequality among state members creates biases and can lead powerful states to misuse these organizations.

They can be deemed unfair as countries with a higher percentage voting power have the right to veto any decision that is not in their favor, leaving the smaller countries powerless.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Charter of the United Nations: Chapter I: Purposes and Principles". Un.org. Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  2. ^ "Charter of the United Nations: Chapter II: Membership". Un.org. 1942-01-01. Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  3. ^ "NATO - Official text: The North Atlantic Treaty, 04-Apr.-1949". Nato.int. 2008-12-09. Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  4. ^ "NATO - Member countries". Nato.int. 2009-03-10. Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  5. ^ "Ending Extreme Poverty and Promoting Shared Prosperity". worldbank.org. 2013-04-19. Retrieved 2013-12-12. 
  6. ^ "Member Countries". Retrieved 2013-12-12. 
  7. ^ Held and McGrew, 2002: 18-19
  8. ^ Shannon, Megan. "The Expansion of International Organizations" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Hilton Chicago and the Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, IL, Sep 02, 2004 <Not Available>. 2009-05-26 [1]
  9. ^ Matthew Parish: An Essay on the Accountability of International Organizations, International Organizations Law Review, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2010 (abstract)
  10. ^ August Reinisch, Ulf Andreas Weber: In the shadow of Waite and Kennedy: The jurisdictional immunity of international organizations, the individual's right of access to the courts and administrative tribunals as alternative means of dispute settlement, International organizations Law Review, number 1, pages 59–110, 2004 (PDF): see page 77.
  11. ^ André Heitz: The French court said… The right to a day in court prevails over jurisdictional immunity, UN Special number 645, November 2005
  12. ^ August Reinisch, Ulf Andreas Weber: In the shadow of Waite and Kennedy: The jurisdictional immunity of international organizations, the individual's right of access to the courts and administrative tribunals as alternative means of dispute settlement, International organizations Law Review, number 1, pages 59–110, 2004 (PDF): see page 72.
  13. ^ The success of which we cannot speak, brettonwoodlaw.com, 11 September 2013
  14. ^ The Immunity of International Organizations and the Jurisdiction of their Administrative Tribunals, Oxford Journals: Chinese Journal of International Law, Volume 7, Issue 2, pages 285-306
  15. ^ Van der Peet vs. Germany
  16. ^ Waite and Kennedy v. Germany (1999)
  17. ^ EPO: no immunity in labor cases?, dvdw.nl, 27 August 2013

Further reading[edit]

  • Claude, I.L. (1959). Swords into Plowshares: The problems and progress of international organization. New York: Random House
  • IGO search Free service allowing search through websites of all intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) as recognized and profiled by the Union of International Associations.
  • ASIL-RIO reports Reports on the activities of various intergovernmental organizations maintained by the American Society of International Law.
  • Walker, Gloria. "Consolidation and Corruption: The Effect of IGO Membership on Level of Corruption in Emerging Democracies" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Hilton Chicago and the Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, IL, Sep 02, 2004 <Not Available>. 2009-05-26 <http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p61398_index.html>

External links[edit]

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