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International Civil Servants and Their Unexplored Role in International Law

Published on October 3, 2019        Author: 

2019 marks the centenary of the foundation of the League of Nations. While the early intergovernmental organizations (IOs) founded before WWI were often staffed by seconded officials, Eric Drummond, the British diplomat and the first Secretary-General of the League, set the ground for creation of an ‘international’ secretariat, composed of professional public servants of various backgrounds, who were ready to commit to the goals of the League and carry out their functions under the sole direction of a non-national leader. The concepts and approaches introduced by Drummond were later inherited by the United Nations and other IOs. Later on, the second UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld played a major role in concertizing the concepts and principles of international civil service, introducing ‘independence’ and ‘international responsibility’, as the pillars of the work of the secretariat.

Today, the backbone of international bureaucracies are individuals with expertise and diplomatic tact, who altogether constitute a unique body of human resources known as ‘international civil servants’. International civil servants perform their duties in complex legal and political environments; in refugee camps, humanitarian missions, post-conflict administrations, and sometimes in calmer environment of headquarters. The status, rights and obligations of employees of IOs are rooted in the constituent instruments of their respective organizations, concluded under international law. However, this is not a one-way road. Indeed, international civil servants actively contribute to formation of international norms, monitor and report on their implementation at macro and micro levels. In a broader perspective, they collectively shape the vision of ‘good life’ for the world population, using an expert language, which enhances the persuasive force of their narratives. Nevertheless, the role of individuals behind the wheels of IOs in development of international law is, to a great extent, absent from the international legal discourse. A better understanding of the changes in international law necessitates an in-depth inquiry into the role of international civil servants in constructing the narratives that influence the spheres of global and national governance. Read the rest of this entry…