PRAVNI ZAPISI • Year V • No. 2 • pp. 349-383


Language: Serbian

Prof. dr Papić Tatjana
Vanredna profesorka, Pravni fakultet Univerziteta Union u Beogradu



Pravni zapisi, No. 2/2014, pp. 349-383

Original Scientific Article

DOI: 10.5937/pravzap0-7044

international obligation of international organizations; international responsibility of international organizations; treaty rules applicable to international organizations; customary rules applicable to international organizations; unilateral acts as source of international obligations

This article discusses the scope of international obligations of international organizations, considering different formal sources of public international law. Neither the practice nor the doctrine of international law, have shown much interest in this topic until recently. This was mainly due to a widely spread perception of international organizations, which were seen as protectors, not as violators of international law. However, when it became apparent that international organizations could be implicated in abuses of international legal rules as was the case of the UN peace missions in Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo the topic of international obligations and international responsibility of international organizations became pertinent. The general principle of international law is that every internationally wrongful act entails international responsibility. This principle is also to be applied to international organizations as subjects of international law. In order for internationally wrongful act to exist there need to be a conduct attributable to international organizations which constitutes a breach of its international obligation, regardless of its source. However, most international obligations were established in respect of states. Thus, when working on the rules on international responsibility of international organizations, the UN International Law Commission (ILC) was facing a challenge which did not exist when they were dealing with the responsibility of states. Namely, the small number of international obligations to be applied to international organizations meant that the rules drafted by ILC were not substantiated by much practice. This is one of the reasons why the present article tries to shed some light on the situation with regard to international rules that are to be applied to international organizations. As the International Court of Justice has stated, international organizations are bound by obligations under general rules of international law (international customary law), their constitutions, or international agreements to which they are parties. However, if one were to apply, for example, international customary rules to international organizations, one would face many difficulties. This is due to the specific nature of international organizations as subjects of international law, which is reflected in their limited and functional international personality that is quite different than the personality of states. With these challenges in mind, this article analyses the practice of international law in order to identify treaty and customary law obligations applicable to international organizations. Moreover, it gives a special attention to unilateral acts as a possible source of international obligations of international organizations. Firstly, it discusses whether international law criteria for unilaterally binding commitments of states may be applied to international organizations. Secondly, it presents instances of unilateral declarations by the UN in which these criteria were met (statements of the Secretary-General of the UN). Thirdly, the article discusses rules of international organizations as sources of their international obligations, using the examples of Security Council resolutions and acts based on them (UNMIK regulations). The article concludes that although the scope of international obligations of international organizations is substantially narrower than in the case of states, the practice shows the tendency towards their broadening, especially in the field of international human rights law.