Accountability and Legitimacy of International NGOs

by Kenneth Anderson

(Shameless self-promotion alert!)  I have been meaning to mention a new essay of mine in a fine symposium issue of the Brooklyn Journal of International Law that came out a few weeks ago, ‘Accountability’ as ‘Legitimacy’: Global Governance, Global Civil Society, and the United Nations. I’ve linked to the SSRN page, but I see that all the articles from the symposium issue are up on Westlaw.  I’ve put the abstract below the fold, but I suppose I should say that not all my time is spent droning about drones … accountability, legitimacy, and governance in international institutions and civil society are also big interests.  However, I want to emphasize the papers in the whole symposium issue (here is the link to the BJIL) – it was a wide-ranging and intellectually vigorous conference and the published papers are terrific.

This essay is a contribution to a symposium on international NGO accountability. It distinguishes between “internal” accountability for NGOs (fiduciary standards, fiscal and internal governance controls, etc.) and “external” accountability (the legitimacy with which they act in the international world, and the legitimacy which they confer upon others, and why). The essay focuses upon the latter, external accountability, and argues that the transformation of international NGOs into “global civil society” signaled an ideological move with regards to legitimacy in the global community, one which asserted claims of “representativeness” and not merely interest or expertise. The essay criticizes this legitimacy move, suggesting that it arises from mutual interests on the part of international NGOs and public international organizations such as the UN to confer legitimacy upon each other in the interest of promoting a mutually congenial form of global governance. The essay offers this account and critique in the context of a quasi-historical examination of the rise of the human rights movement as the “apex” values of the international system, with a special “legitimacy” place in that system accorded to international human rights NGOs. The essay concludes by noting that this “auto-legitimation” between international NGOs and international organizations does not lead to greater external accountability, particularly in an increasingly multipolar world.

One Response

  1. Wow Ken! I look forward to reading your essay! Thanks!

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