Vol. 6 No. 11 (November, 1996) pp. 165-167
519 pp.
Reviewed by Clovis Morrisson , University of North Texas
The author sets two goals for himself in this book. One is explicit: to extract principles of institutional (operational, procedural, internal) law of public international organizations from the governing documents and practices of the organs of such bodies. The other is implicit: to demonstrate comparatively the similarity of decisions of these organizations even where evidence of laws is too skimpy yet to proclaim principles. The first goal contains the thesis of the work: that such principles of institutional law can exist and are evolving from practice or can be derived from customary international law and general principles of international law. This thesis is certainly controversial, for there are those who contend that there can never be anything more than hundreds of sets of laws governing each organization made by the organs thereof or by the member states of the organizations. Amerasinghe offers some evidence that, at least in a few areas of institutional law, principles are evolving and are generally being followed. He cites the examples of privileges and immunities of organizations and their personnel as coming from conventional (multilateral treaties) international law; of ultra vires and employment law as coming from general principles of international law, and, somewhat less convincingly, rules of textual interpretation as coming from general principles.

The overall thrust of the book is descriptive. Using legal scholarship techniques of analysis of case rule and opinion, of interpretations of decisions of organs of international organizations, of negotiated settlements and mediated and arbitrated awards, he describes how international organizations go about performing the tasks of their own internal government. In some subject areas, notably employment law (about which the author’s scholarship is at its best), there are copious examples of decisions by administrative organs, international tribunals, mediated settlement procedures and even national courts in a few instances. Finance law and the procedural laws of conduct of business by organizational bodies are other areas with many developments to plumb. Other areas, such as constitutional amendment and dissolution provisions, remain bare outlines. There is little to review except the written provisions in the conventions. The author explores, in addition to those mentioned above, the subject areas of legal personality of organizations, of membership and representation questions, of decisions of organs; and of liability of member states, organizations and non-member states.

The most useful part of the book deals with the area of employment law. Except for the treaty creating the Central American Court of Justice, all international law prior to World War I treated real humans as mere objects of the law, incapable of independent operation within the framework of the legal system. The only subjects of the law were nation states. Gaining momentum after World War II, the theory has now achieved considerable currency that both fictitious (corporations) and real persons as well as international organizations could be limited subjects of international law.

Nowhere (possibly excepting international human rights law) in the international arena is the need greater for real persons to be able to initiate and prosecute international claims unaided by their own national governments than in the area of employment by international organizations. There are hundreds of thousands of such employees. How conditions of employment, performance review, promotions, dismissals, grievances--in short, all the area issues of public and private employment everywhere--are handled by international organizations depends in large measure on the rights accorded employees. The additional layer of problems caused by very divided loyalties— to the nation of citizenship and to the international organization of employment— is an overlay not found in private or national public employment.

The author very ably demonstrates the emerging body of employment law that cuts across organizational institutions. His examination of the sources of the provisions of this body of law and the practice that is increasingly cited by decision-making bodies (tribunals, organs of the organizations, mediators and the like) is rich in detail and supports his thesis of an emerging body of institutional law. This topic is treated in the main in one chapter, but there are other useful references to it sprinkled throughout the book.

Within the framework of his chosen method of analysis, the author labors well and extensively to bring to his readers his research data and his conclusions. If there is a fault with his methodology, it is caused by the large number of organizations extant in the world today. He cites a study that identifies over 36,000 international organizations, of which approximately 5,000 are probably public (as opposed to non-governmental) organizations. Of the latter, 251 are listed as "conventional" (created by multilateral treaties). Even eliminating over 900 organizations that are not active, there remain nearly 4,000 organizations that are or could be public international organizations. In his work, the author lists abbreviations for only about 120 organizations. For most of these, there are only one or two mentions in the entire book.

In short, the author has surveyed several dozen major public international organizations for the pool of data from whence he searches for principles. He concludes page 21 with the statement that "...it may be assumed that what is said generally about them will apply to others also." For a relatively short work such as this, perhaps this approach is justifiable, but the assumption can hardly be warranted without further investigation.

Comparisons with Schermers and Blokker (1995) are inevitable. While Amerasinghe’s work is more tightly and logically organized, the latter book is far more detailed (with 1302 pages), more truly comparative and more successful in its attempt at grounding institutional law in theory. However, there certainly is a place for a shorter work, and while it may be too early in many subject areas to find true principles, the attempt by Amerasinghe is admirable and quite successful in some instances.

The book is written with precision and in a linguistic style that practicing lawyers, law school professors and students of the law should find satisfying. It should prove very useful to those professionals for advising client groups. It also should find a place as a reference for policy makers in administrations of international organizations and in bureaus of national governments charged with dealing with them. The book also will be relevant to the study of international law and organizations in political science.

The fundamental question--will organs of international organizations truly look to emerging principles of a body of law we might call the institutional law of international organizations as authoritative, binding parameters of decision-making and conduct--cannot yet be answered. The author finds enough hints and sign posts of an eventual affirmative answer to make this a worthwhile study.
Schemers, Henry G. and Niles M. Blokker. 1995. INTERNATIONAL INSTITU-TIONAL LAW, third revised edition. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff.

Copyright 1997