International Law and Immigration

Ca. Int'l Law Journal SUMMER 2020, VOL. 28, NO. 1


Richard Bainter*

1. The United States (US) contributes approximately $12 billion USD each year to the operations of more than 200 international organizations.1 Many of these organizations have headquarters or operations within the US and have been granted some form of immunity from legal process under the provisions of US legislation, namely, the International Organizations Immunities Act (IOIA).2 The IOIA shields those international organizations from civil liability in the US. The IOIA also provides immunity to key personnel of international organizations, but this article will only address the immunity of the organization. Until recently, some federal circuits interpreted the IOIA to grant near absolute immunity to international organizations while others made an exception to immunity for disputes arising from the commercial activities of the international organization. The split of authority was resolved by the US Supreme Court in 2019.3

2. The IOIA was adopted at the end of World War II when the US and its allies joined together to create a number of new international organizations, which were intended to help stabilize the international economy and maintain international peace and security. Those organizations included the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations. In adopting the IOIA, Congress was motivated by "the probability that the United Nations Organization may establish its headquarters in this country, and the practical certainty in any case that it would carry on certain activities in this country . . . ."4 By providing immunity, Congress was seeking to create an incentive that would increase the chances of the United Nations and other international organizations locating their headquarters in the US.

3. The number of international organizations has grown significantly since 1945 and the reach of the IOIA has grown accordingly. Whereas only sixteen organizations had been granted immunity under the act before 1950, over eighty organizations are now protected, including organizations as diverse as the Pacific Salmon Commission, the International Wheat Advisory Committee, and the Universal Postal Union.

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