Immunity of International Non-governmental Organizations: Inconsistency in International Practice and Doctrine (Original Research)

Document Type : academic


Department of Law, Faculty of Social Sciences, Imam Khomeini International University, Qazvin, Iran


The role of international non-governmental organizations has been promoted in the last half-century, and the scope of their activities has been expanded. Despite the fact that non-governmental organizations are recognized as the subsidiary subjects of international law and their establishment and formation are conducted by private persons and according to the domestic laws of countries, the important status of some of them in the international community has raised many legal issues. One of the issues that will be discussed in this article is whether the aforementioned organizations, similar to international organizations enjoy immunity based on having international legal personality, functionalism or structuralism? As the research hypothesis, it is suggested that for granting immunity to non-governmental organizations, we observe a selective practice of governments toward a few organizations, and the basis of immunity is also explained on a new approach consisting of functionalism and structuralism doctrines. Thus, mixed administration or financing, performing a mission related to the international public interests and official recognition through a multilateral treaty or frequent resolutions of an international governmental organization, are the indicators for granting immunity.


Main Subjects

  1. - Books

    1. Ben-Ari, Rephael Harel, the Normative Position of International Non-Governmental Organizations under International Law, Leiden/Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2012.
    2. Clarke, Lisa, Responsibility, of Hybrid Public-Private Bodies Under International Law: A Case Study of Global Health Public-Private Partnerships, Abingdon: Routledge, 2014.


    - Articles

    1. Charnovitz, Steve, “Nongovernmental Organizations and International Law”, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 100, No. 2, 2006, pp. 348-372.
    2. Clarke, Lisa, “Responsibility of International Organizations under International Law for the Acts of Global Health Public-Private Partnerships”, Chicago Journal of International Law, Vol. 12. No. 1, 2011, pp. 55-84.
    3. Debuf, Els, “Tools to do the job: The ICRC’s legal status, privileges and immunities”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 97, 2016, pp. 319–344.
    4. Hume, Jessica and Leonard, Anné, “Exploring the Strategic Potential of Internal Communication in International Non-governmental Organizations”, Public Relations Review, Vol. 40(2), 2013, pp. 2-11.
    5. Klabbers, Jan, “The EJIL Foreword: The Transformation of International Organizations Law”, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 26, Issue 1, February 2015, pp. 9–82.
    6. Miller, Anthony J., “The Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations”, International Organizations Law Review, Vol. 6, Issue 1, 2009, pp. 7-115.
    7. Ossewaarde, R., Nijhof, A., & Heyse, L., “Dynamics of NGO legitimacy: How organizing betrays core missions of INGOs”, Public administration and development, Vol. 28(1), 2008, pp. 42-53.
    8. Pavot, David and Laperle-Forget, Lolita, “The Emergence of Objective Guidelines for Granting Immunity to International Non-Governmental Organizations”, Chinese Journal of International Law, 20, Issue 1, 2021, pp. 137–163.
    9. Rona, Gabor, “The ICRC’s privilege not to testify: Confidentiality in action. An explanatory memorandum”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 84, 2002, Published online by Cambridge University Press: 19 April 2010, pp. 207-219.



    - Documents

    1. Agreement between the Swiss Federal Council and the GAVI Alliance to determine the legal status of the GAVI Alliance in Switzerland [translated by the authors], RO 2009 4567.
    2. Agreement on privileges and immunities of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (14 December 2009), UNTS No. 55785.
    3. Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 27 July 1929.
    4. CP/Res. 759 (1217/99), Guidelines for Participation by Civil Organization in OAS Activities, 15 December 1999.
    5. Draft World Charter for Nature, GA Res 36/6 (27 October 1981).
    6. Economic development and the conservation of nature, GA Res 1831 (XVII) (18 December 1962).
    7. ESC Res. 288 B(x), 27 February 1950.
    8. ESC Res.1296 (XLIV), 23 May 1968.
    9. ESC Res.1996/31, 25 July 1996.
    10. European Convention on the Recognition of the Legal Personality of International NGOs, 1986.
    11. ICTY, Prosecutor v. Simić et al., Case No. IT-95-9, Decision on the Prosecution Motion under Rule 73 for a Ruling Concerning the Testimony of a Witness, 27 July 1999).
    12. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (entered into force on 1 July 1975).