Chicago Journal of International Law

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United Nations (U.N.) privileges and immunities, enshrined in the Convention on Privileges and Immunities, protect U.N. personnel from legal proceedings and facilitate U.N. missions in volatile contexts. Today, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are essential providers of emergency humanitarian assistance in some of the most dangerous states. Even though some NGOs work under U.N. funding agreements, they lack the protective immunities of the U.N. This Comment assesses the bases for U.N. immunity and the similar concept of derivative sovereign immunity, whereby sovereign governments extend their immunity to quasigovernment entities and private contractors. It argues that derivative immunity from states is based on a principal-agent relationship and that this relationship may be found in some U.N.- NGO partnerships. This provides a legal basis for states that recognize derivative immunity to grant NGOs immunity for actions taken on projects under U.N. funding. Legal precedent for extending U.N. immunity to U.S. contractors also exists in the United States. A second route to NGO immunity is through the U.N. This Comment shows that the U.N. contemplates derivative immunity by extending it to specific types of U.N. employees through the Convention on Privileges and Immunities and to U.N. contractors broadly through host country agreements, again based on a principal-agent relationship. This bolsters the legal argument for states to grant a limited form of derivative U.N. immunity to humanitarian NGOs to protect them from political bias while preserving their accountability to vulnerable populations.

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