Assumptions of legitimacy and the foundations of international territorial administration.

Author:Dickerson, Hollin K.
Position:New Voices: Perspectives on Transitional Justice, Postconflict Societies and Human Rights - Proceedings of the One Hundredth Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law: A Just World Under Law

The question I seek to examine is whether or not it should be assumed that international organizations are more legitimate than states when it comes to the specific task of territorial administration.

I adopt the definition of international territorial administration, or ITA, used by Ralph Wilde in his work, which is that ITA occurs when an international organization goes into an independent territory and acts as that region's government. (1) Recent and prominent examples include the U.N.'s activities in Kosovo (UNMIK) and East Timor (UNTAET). One important distinction is that ITA operations are not peacekeeping operations, which are military affairs. Rather, ITA is civilian governance, and in the past it has been carried out in response to two types of situations: those that involve a handover in land between two countries and those in which the international organization seeks to implement a change in a territory's existing governance.

Today, the use of international organizations as the actor chosen to administer a territory in a postconflict or otherwise-transitional situation has become well-established, and there continues to remain a general aversion to the idea of state administration because of associations with colonialism. I argue that this bifurcation between states and international organizations in the context of territorial administration is oversimplified and masks some very real tensions regarding the appropriateness of international organizations to carry out these activities. To address the question of whether or not international organizations are the best actors, I examine legitimacy through three separate lenses: (1) legal authority, (2) accountability, and (3) impartiality.


International administration implies what was lacking under colonialism--the consent of relevant actors, including the host state and the local population. With respect to host-state consent, in those cases in which the ITA has been used to act as a "buffer" between two states during an interim land handover, host-state consent has invariably been sought. Yet in those instances in which ITA is used to effect a change in local governance, the very purpose of ITA is to go against the wishes of the host state. This was the case in Kosovo, where the United Nations sought to dispel with the existing Serb leaders. In place of host-state consent in those situations, there is instead Security Council authorization, which raises the problems that are inherent in the structure and...

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