Complaints within International Organizations: Who is Competent to Decide?

Updated: Mar 4

by Vittoria Paterno


Modulaw is an international law firm based in Vienna and Perth. Its core activity is providing legal representation and advisory services to international civil servants regarding international labour law. Modulaw is currently engaged in a case of denial of justice concerning two former EUFOR consultants, the international civilian and military forces engaged in EU peacekeeping missions in the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy. The main issue raised by international civilian consultants (ICCs) is the unequal treatment between them and the national employees and staff members, namely LCHs (Local Civilian Hires). The latter had a similar contractual situation to ICCs prior to some improvements concerning only those operating inside EUFOR. The issue has been going on for two and a half years now; during this period, Ludovica Moro and Neha Dubey, Modulaw’s managing partners, following the denial of competence to entertain the complaint by EUFOR’s chain of command, have been seeking to identify an alternative forum to hold the case.

1. International Disputes

Every jurisdiction has its own rules that regulate and define the matters falling within the competence of the courts. Therefore, the resolution of civil, criminal and international disputes takes place in the respective court venues. In the framework of international law, the Permanent Court of International Justice, in its judgement of 1924, defined international disputes as “a disagreement on a point of law or fact, a conflict of legal views or interests between two persons.”[1]

Due to the customary and binding legislation banning the use of force to settle international disputes, the United Nations Charter has acknowledged the obligation for States to resolve disputes “by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”[2].

2. International Organizations

What happens when disputes involve international organizations (IOs) from the inside?

These organizations are bodies with a permanent institutional structure created by States via international agreements to reach common goals through humanitarian activities.[3] “The founding treaties of these international organizations are different from other international agreements since they create permanent, autonomous institutional structures with an international subjectivity distinct from that of its member states.”[4]

It is important to note that having an international legal personality is an essential requirement for all IOs; this legal personality entitles IOs to carry out crucial external actions such as participating in activities of other IOs.

Being a subject of international law means being a holder of international rights and duties. This subjectivity has a functional purpose because, unlike countries, these organizations do not have general powers; they only have conferred powers laid down in their founding treaties (the so-called principle of specialty).[5]

3. Labour Relations within International Organizations

International organizations must provide their staff members fair working conditions and effective means to settle disputes. This requirement not only stems from the immunity proper to a