Today is United Nations Day. But did you know that the UN cannot be prosecuted in domestic courts?
When the UN had its first General Assembly in 1946, one of its first official acts included granting itself legal immunity by way of a treaty, meaning an individual cannot sue the UN. However, the UN recognizes claims of wrongdoing and can resolve disputes in other ways, namely through settlement.
The UN notably upheld its legal immunity in August, when the United States federal appeals panel agreed the UN could not be sued in American courts on the behalf of thousands of cholera victims in Haiti.
Here are the letters exchanged between the UN human rights adviser and the deputy secretary general regarding the cholera crisis in Haiti, published by the New York Times.
Essentially, in these letters, the UN human rights adviser urges the United Nations to accept responsibility for the cholera crisis in Haiti, asking not for the recantation of the UN’s legal immunity but instead for an admission of guilt. The deputy secretary general responds by stating the intentions of the UN in regards to Haiti’s present state.
From a brief reading of these letters, it is possible to maintain the UN’s legal immunity while helping the Haitian community move forward. However, I think it is necessary to consider what outcomes could arise if the UN did not have legal immunity.
Imagine: the UN loses a lawsuit worth more than its operating budget. Forced to dissolve, member states leave the peacekeeping organization. Compare this to Great Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in June. Though some financial and nationalistic complications arose, a recession has been largely avoided. This is not to say the UN should operate without legal immunity, only that it may be possible to do so.
Clearly, I am no economist or legal expert. But I do know the ideas concerning peacekeeping are not tied to a singular organization. Countries will negotiate deals as they see fit.
To have legal immunity or not to have legal immunity? That is the question.