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UNaccountable? The United Nations, Emergency Powers, and the Rule of Law

PDF · Simon Chesterman · Jul-10-2012 · 42 VAND. J. TRANSNAT'L L. 1509 (2009)

For a body committed to the rule of law in theory, the applicability of the rule of law to the United Nations in practice remains oddly unclear.  This Article will not consider the personal responsibility of UN officials, who generally enjoy personal or functional immunity from legal process in the territories where they work. Rather the focus of this Article is on the quasi-constitutional question of the liability of the organization itself.  As the United Nations has assumed more state-like functions—in particular through the coercive activities of its Security Council—the question of what limits exist on the powers thus exercised has become more pressing.  These powers may be compared to emergency powers within the domestic jurisdiction of states.  Whereas a state of emergency is traditionally invoked in order to justify a departure from or stretching of the rule of law, here the existence of an emergency is a prerequisite to invoking the rule of law at all.  At the same time, those promoting the rule of law generally lie beyond the reach of the jurisdiction in question—both during times of emergency and in times of quiet.




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