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UN immunity or impunity? A human rights based challenge

Freedman, R. (2014) UN immunity or impunity? A human rights based challenge. European Journal of International Law, 25 (1). pp. 239-254. ISSN 1464-3596

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/ejil/cht082


National courts have long understood the UN to have absolute immunity from their jurisdiction, based upon provisions in the UN Charter and the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN. While state immunity has evolved over recent decades, allowing restrictive immunity that distinguishes between acts jure imperii and those jure gestionis, questions have arisen as to whether that doctrine applies to international organizations and, specifically, the UN. The counterbalance to the UN’s absolute immunity is the requirement that it provide alternative mechanisms for resolving disputes. This raises concerns about accountability and internal review. Case law from various courts demonstrates an increasing willingness to attempt to challenge absolute immunity on the basis that the bar to jurisdiction violates claimants’ rights to access a court and to a remedy. In all of those cases, individuals’ ability to access alternative mechanisms for dispute resolution has been used to show that their rights have been realized. Recent events concerning the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti may lead to a challenge to the UN’s absolute immunity. The UN has deemed those claims to be ‘not receivable’, which denies the claimants their rights to access a court and to a remedy. In October 2013, lawyers for the Haiti cholera victims filed a class action in the Southern District of New York, seeking to challenge the UN’s immunity by bringing the Organization before a national court. This article explores whether the events in Haiti may provide the first successful, human rights-based challenge to the UN’s absolute immunity.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Law
ID Code:66582
Publisher:Oxford University Press

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