Research Handbook on the Law of International Organizations

Research Handbook on the Law of International Organizations

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Jan Klabbers and Åsa Wallendahl

This pioneering Research Handbook with contributions from renowned experts, provides an overview of the general doctrines making up the law of international organizations.

Chapter 14: Ultra Vires Acts of International Organizations

Enzo Cannizzaro and Paolo Palchetti

Subjects: asian studies, asian law, law - academic, asian law, european law, human rights, intellectual property law, international economic law, trade law, public international law, politics and public policy, human rights, international politics, international relations


Enzo Cannizzaro and Paolo Palchetti INTRODUCTORY REMARKS In its purest meaning, the notion of an ultra vires act refers to acts or actions of international organizations, which are taken outside the scope of their competence.1 This notion is therefore intimately connected with the idea of entities possessing only some (limited) powers of action. By their nature, international organizations are (only) endowed with those powers conferred to them by their member states through the founding treaty. It is precisely when international organizations act beyond their competences, stated expressly or implicitly in their constituent instrument, that they are deemed to act ultra vires. By contrast, it is uncommon to apply the notion of an ultra vires act to measures or actions taken by states.2 To be sure, single organs of states can act beyond the scope of their competence. However, compliance by states’ organs with internal rules determining the scope of their competence is relevant internationally only in those limited cases in which international law refers to these domestic rules, and attaches consequences to their breach.3 The idea that states themselves can act ultra vires, although not logically impossible, is much more controversial and it seems basically to be confined to those situations in which states act on the basis of a competence conferred by an international instrument. All in all, both these situations have particular features which suggest that they should be excluded from the scope of the present analysis. The existence of limits to the powers of international organizations, drawn...

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