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Binding the United Nations to customary (human rights) law

Quénivet, Noëlle

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Whilst most legal scholarship focuses on the responsibility of the United Nations for human rights violations few studies have ascertained the legal basis of the primary rules leading to such responsibility. This article fills this gap by reviewing the theories used to bind the UN to customary human rights law: (1) the UN has inherited its Member States’ obligations, (2) participation in the formation of customary human rights law implies being bound by it, (3) the UN is bound by international law because it has legal personality and (4) as the UN is embedded in international law it must comply with its norms. Such theories are further tested against the backdrop of international organisations’ theories. The article draws the conclusion that (1) should be rejected, (2) is not yet legally sound and (3)-(4), despite their flaws, are more persuasive. Ultimately, recourse must be had to the general international law.


Quénivet, N. (2020). Binding the United Nations to customary (human rights) law. International Organizations Law Review, 17(2), 379-417.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 7, 2018
Online Publication Date Jun 5, 2020
Publication Date Jun 5, 2020
Deposit Date Sep 10, 2018
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2021
Journal International Organizations Law Review
Print ISSN 1572-3739
Electronic ISSN 1572-3747
Publisher Brill Academic Publishers
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Issue 2
Pages 379-417
Keywords UN; United Nations; Customary international law; Human rights; Human rights law
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : This is the accepted version of the article. The final published version can be found online at


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