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This article is written by Aksshay Sharma, from the Department of Laws, Panjab University, Chandigarh. This article deals with the importance of international organizations in international law, particularly the function of the United Nations in the maintenance of international peace and security.


International organizations play an important role in the international arena, with power in mediation, dispute resolution, peacekeeping, applying sanctions, global governance etc. They also help in tackling key areas of international concern or global issues such as global health policy, monetary policies around the world, climate change, resource depletion and management of “global commons”. International organizations today play an important role in almost all the political and economic challenges of the 21st century. The most important attribute of international organizations is their neutrality, impartiality and independence.

Role of international organizations

Role of various International organizations can be gauged from the treaties under which they are established.

  1. Expertise in specific matters: One of the main reasons why states want to establish or participate as members of independent international organizations is that such organizations have and can delegate authority in those matters which require knowledge, expertise, information, time and resources that are not available at all times. International organizations perform actions that enjoy legitimacy and affect the legitimacy of the State activity.
  2. Political neutrality with no vested interests: International organizations provide a platform for depoliticised and specific unbiased discussions in a much more effective way than any other arrangement. They delineate the specific terms of ongoing interactions between States and strive to balance the relationships between stronger and weaker nations, between interests and knowledge. This is because International organizations participate as independent and neutral actors on the global stage and this helps in increasing the efficiency and legitimacy of their individual or collective decisions Thus, International organizations are instrumental in ensuring international cooperation.
  3. However, the main aim of international organizations continues to be to facilitate negotiations and implement agreements and treaties, dispute resolution, and offering technical assistance and monetary assistance and developing rules. Specific International organizations cater to a specific problem or issue faced by the global community.
  4. Peaceful dispute settlement: One of the fundamental ways in which international organizations can contribute and uphold International law is by a peaceful settlement of disputes. Without such a mechanism, the global world which is always in a constant state of anarchy and will descend into the Hobbesian “State of nature”, which is a state of war of everyone against everyone and the life in it will be “nasty and brutish”. All such organizations subscribe to the UN Charter, according to which all member states should settle their international disputes by peaceful means so that international peace and security and justice is not endangered. Thus, the UN Charter provides for Pacific settlement of the dispute through the instrumentality of the Security Council and establishment of the International Court of Justice. Further, there is a Permanent Court of Arbitration, under the Hague Convention of 1899 and 1907.
  5. Legislative functions: International organizations perform various specialised legislative and supervisory functions, which involves developing a framework for cooperation, treaties, developing rules etc. However, it does not act as a world parliament. For instance, resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) are binding on member states. Similarly, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), World Health Organisation (WHO), International Labour Organisation (ILO) perform specialised legislative and regulatory functions.

Role of United Nations organizations

The United Nations strives to uphold international law. It establishes conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations under treaties and under international law can be maintained. The development and respect for international law is an important part of the work of the United Nations. This work is carried out in many ways by International Court of Justice, International tribunals, multilateral treaties and by the Security Council, which can approve peacekeeping missions, impose sanctions, or authorize the use of force when there is a threat to international peace and security if it considered it to be necessary. These powers are given to it by the UN Charter, which is considered an international treaty.

UNO was established after the 2nd World War and thus the prime concern was the maintenance of international peace and security by preventing States from the scourge of war and by addressing various issues of global concern. Thus, under Article 1 of the UN Charter, UNO is mandated to maintain peace and security by taking steps to prevent and prevent threats to peace and by suppression of acts of aggression and other breaches to peace.

Further UNO strives to maintain friendly relations among nations based on the respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of people.

It also aims to achieve international cooperation for solving international problems of economic, cultural, social and humanitarian character and by promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedom without any discrimination.

Accordingly, Six-Principal organs of UNO has been established under Article 7 of the UN charter namely:

United Nations General Assembly (“General Assembly”)

It is the main decision-making body of UNO and can discuss any matter within the scope of the UN Charter. Under Article 11 it can consider general principles of co-operation for maintenance of peace and security, including disarmament and regulation of armaments. If according to the General Assembly peace and security is threatened, then it can call the attention of the Security Council in this regard.

Under Article 14 of the UN Charter, the General Assembly can recommend measures for peaceful settlement of any situation regardless of its origin if it thinks that it can impair friendly relations among nations.

United Nations Security Council (“Security Council”)

The Security Council has the primary responsibility of maintaining peace and order in the international arena, for this it has been empowered to take certain actions which include peaceful settlement of disputes as well as the use of military force. For this, it is empowered to take action when two nations are in a dispute or it can also investigate and take action if a threat to peace exists (Article 39).

Under Article 33 of the UN Charter Security Council, States can settle their disputes by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement or any other peaceful means of their choice. Thus, this Article provides for a Pacific Settlement of Disputes. If such parties fail to solve their dispute by such peaceful means then the disputing parties must refer the issue to the Security Council (Article 37).

Under Article 34, it can investigate any dispute or situation which may cause international friction or which can endanger the maintenance of international peace and security. Such disputes can be referred to the Security Council by any member of the United Nations.

Further, the UN Charter also provides for the course of action for the Security Council if a threat to international peace and security arises or if there exists an act of aggression.

For instance, the Security Council resolution 47 provided for the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir Conflict by setting up a commission of three members, one to be chosen by India, one to be chosen by Pakistan and the third to be chosen by the other two members of the commission. However, it must give due regard to the procedure of settlement of dispute already adopted by the disputing parties. Further, if the dispute is legal in nature it should refer the case to the International Court of justice.

Under Article 36, the Security Council can recommend the procedure or method of adjustment for the dispute.

It can also recommend any measure to settle the dispute such as interruption of economic relation like economic sanctions or interruption of rail, sea, air postal, radio or other means of communication or it can even recommend severance of diplomatic relations, to diplomatically isolate the country, but it should not involve use of Armed forces. (Article 41).

However, even if such measures do not ensure peace then it can take actions such as blockades and demonstrations by air, sea or land forces, by the armed forces of UN members. The UN member shall provide troops for such purposes to the Security Council.

United Nations Economic and Social Council (“ECOSOC”)

It is the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as the implementation of internationally agreed development goals.

Under Article 62, ECOSOC is empowered to make reports and initiate studies on various “international economic, social, cultural, education and health” issues and may make recommendations to the General Assembly and to other concerned specialised agencies of the UN.

It can also make recommendations for promotion and for the observance of Human Rights and various other fundamental freedoms.

ECOSOC also serves as a supervisory body. According to Article 64, ECOSOC is empowered to obtain reports from specialised agencies on the steps taken to give effect to its (ECOSOC’s) recommendations. It can also provide information to the Security Council and assist the Security Council on its request.

United Nations Trusteeship Council ( “Trusteeship Council”)

Trusteeship Council was established for supervision and administration of Trust Territories placed under the Trusteeship System. The main goals of the system were to promote the advancement, social, political and economic, of the inhabitants of the trust territories and their progressive development towards self-government or independence.

The trust territories included former mandates of the League of Nations, territories detached from nations defeated at the end of World War II. Palau was the last country to have self-government in December 1994 and since then the Trusteeship Council has suspended its operations. However, trusteeship does not apply to territories which are members of the UN because of the principle of sovereign equality. (Article 78 of the UN Charter)

International Court of Justice (“ICJ”)

The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and it functions according to its statute. ICJ is based upon the statute of Permanent Court of International Justice.

This main body of the UN adjudicates and settles legal disputes submitted to it by States in accordance with international law.

Under Article 36 of ICJ statute, ICJ can exercise jurisdiction over matters which have been referred to it by the parties. All Members of the United Nations are ipso facto parties to the Statute of the International Court of Justice or on those matters which have been specifically mentioned to be adjudicated by the ICJ in the UN Charter.

United Nations Secretariat

It is the administrative organ of the UN and has various departments. Each department has a distinct area of action and responsibility. It is tasked to carry out day to day tasks of the organisation.

Role of Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)

PCA was established under Article 41 of the Hague Convention 1899. According to Article 41 the Convention, the signatory powers agree to establish the Permanent Court of Arbitration for facilitating arbitration of international differences, which could not be settled by diplomacy.

The PCA provides administrative support for international arbitrations. It is competent for all arbitration matters, however, parties to a dispute are allowed to constitute a special tribunal if they decide so. However, the PCA’s functions are not limited to arbitration and also include providing support in other forms of peaceful resolution of international disputes, including mediation, conciliation, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

The members of the court are the main body for facilitating arbitration. Members of the Court are potential arbitrators appointed by Contracting Parties.

Role of International Tribunal of Law of the Sea (“ITLOS”)

ITLOS is an independent judicial body established under the Law of Sea Convention, 1982. It adjudicates on disputes arising out of interpretation and application of the convention and on disputes regarding the release of vessels. According to Article 281 of the convention, parties are bound to settle their dispute by peaceful means by following various methods given under Article 33 of the UN Charter, which includes enquiry negotiation, conciliation, mediation, arbitration, judicial settlement or any other peaceful means of their choice. The tribunal also settles disputes regarding deep-sea mining in the exclusive economic zone and high seas, through the Seabed Disputes Chamber. Further, other specialised chambers have been established under the tribunal like Chamber for Fisheries Disputes, Chamber for Marine Environment Disputes, Chamber for Maritime Delimitation Disputes to deal with specific issues.

Thus ITLOS has contributed to the development of the United National Convention on Law of the Seas, 1892.


International organizations continue to play a crucial role. The rapid development of international organizations in the last 30 years has created an environment in which international law can exercise a constructive influence. organizations like the United Nations have greatly influenced the domestic legislations of countries in respect of Human rights, environmental protection, sustainable development etc. organizations like the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation have changed the perspective of states from being protectionist to a liberal and free trade system. However, what is needed is a greater role of developing countries in such organizations as currently the emergence of some regional organizations is due to lack of say of developing countries in many multilateral organizations.


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