Chicago Journal of International Law

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Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a vital role in international law and governance by influencing the formation of international law and serving as watchdogs in the execution of international agreements. However, countries around the world are increasingly wielding overly cumbersome and targeted domestic restrictions against NGOs in the form of both formal legislation and executive policy. These restrictions hinder the ability of NGOs to provide services, raise resources, and fulfill their watchdog role. As such, the restrictions threaten the effectiveness and very existence of NGOs, especially in nations where they are most needed. Evidence suggests that these ramifications are the design of such restrictions. NGOs are limited in their ability to combat such domestic regulations, partially because they do not possess legal personality in the international legal system. Legal personality is defined as the possession of rights and duties by an entity that allow it to sue and be sued. While traditionally only states possessed legal personality, international law has granted exceptions to this rule in a few areas of jurisprudence. This Comment explores the rise in domestic restrictions on NGOs, the legal status of NGOs under the current international regime, the influence of NGOs on international law, and possibilities for NGOs to combat domestic regulations through legal personality. It argues, given the rise of domestic restrictions over the past decade, that it is time for the international system to grant NGOs legal personality and allow NGOs to sue nations that restrict their rights contrary to commitments the nation has made in international agreements. While challenges to legal personality persist, this Comment argues that the United Nations (U.N.) and regional courts, such as the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, present potential avenues for NGOs to attain and exercise legal personality

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