New book: “The Human Rights Accountability Mechanisms of International Organizations”

Book cover.

This summer I published a book, The Human Rights Accountability Mechanisms of International Organizations, which based on my PhD thesis with Cambridge University Press.

The book is available through the Cambridge University Press store, in both hardback and eBook formats. It is also available to institutional subscribers via Cambridge Core.

A few days ago I also posted a summary of the book at the Cambridge University Press blog fifteeneightyfour, which is reproduced below:

Are international organizations accountable towards individuals when they violate human rights?

International organizations are becoming increasingly powerful. In recent decades states have steadily been conferring powers upon international organizations in order to solve transnational problems and to provide global public goods. As a corollary of their increasing powers, international organizations affect the lives of individuals across the globe – directly and indirectly – through their decisions and conduct. Consequently, they are also more capable of violating the human rights of individuals.

Legal scholars have reacted to these developments by studying whether and to what extent international organizations are responsible for human rights violations. The studies published so far have generally found that international organizations do have human rights obligations, that they sometimes do act in contravention of such obligations, and that when they do, international organizations are responsible as a matter of substantive international law towards individuals.

But accountability is more than responsibility. A power-wielder is accountable when there are procedural mechanisms available to hold it to account. My book, entitled The Human Rights Accountability Mechanisms of International Organizations, takes the debate on the accountability of international organizations one step further by analyzing and assessing the accountability mechanisms of international organizations. The book offers three main contributions:

  • A general framework for identifying, analyzing, and assessing the accountability mechanisms of international organizations.
  • Three case studies of the accountability mechanisms applicable in situations where international organizations wield significant power vis-à-vis individuals.
  • A sketch of the way towards reform that will ensure accountability.

The first contribution – a general framework for identifying, analyzing, and assessing the accountability of international organizations – is perhaps the most interesting for researchers. In the book, I develop a definition of international organization accountability mechanisms, as well as a detailed taxonomy of them.

I also propose a normative framework for assessing the sufficiency of such accountability mechanisms. This framework is built upon legal theory on the right to remedy, and both legal theory and social psychology research on procedural justice. On the basis of these theoretical approaches, I establish a concrete set of normative yardsticks against which to assess the accountability mechanisms of international organizations. These yardsticks are bundled in four groups, reflecting to the aspects of accountability mechanisms that they may be used to assess: access, voice, neutrality, and outcome.

While the scope of the book is limited to human rights accountability mechanisms, this framework for analysis and assessment is general. It can be used to analyze and assess the legal accountability mechanisms applicable to any international organization. Hopefully, other researchers will find this framework useful when engaging in case studies of the accountability mechanisms of (other) international organizations.

Second, my book contains three in-depth case studies of the human rights accountability mechanisms applicable to situations where international organizations wield significant power vis-à-vis individuals:

  • Detention in the International Criminal Court’s Detention Centre.
  • The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy Missions.
  • Refugee camp administration by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In each case study, I apply the above-mentioned framework to identify, analyze, and assess the relevant accountability mechanisms. Each case study chapter begins with an introduction of the organization, how it exercises power over individuals in the situation in question, and what the organization’s human rights obligations are. Then the applicable accountability mechanisms are identified, analyzed and assessed in light of the normative yardsticks; access, voice, neutrality, and outcome.

Third, I end the book with an overview of the tendencies and paradoxes observed, a discussion of their generalizability and implications, and finally a sketch of the direction a reform agenda should take. Specifically, I suggest that to enhance accountability by curtailing the jurisdictional immunity of international organizations is neither desirable, nor easier to achieve than the alternatives. I instead advocate reform at the international level, by establishing new accountability mechanisms with jurisdiction over international organizations.

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