Letter from the Editors
International organizations have been with us for a long time. They are now cardinal actors in international life, law and politics, a critical role which was probably not fully anticipated at their inception in the mid-nineteenth century.
It is frequently acknowledged that, especially since the creation of the United Nations in 1945, the role of organizations has increased exponentially. Today over 600 international intergovernmental organizations are active in virtually all areas of human activity, including (but not at all limited to) environmental protection; peace and security; health; trade; food and agriculture; technology; human rights; rail transport; and space travel. Organizations are platforms for State action, but they also operate as independent actors. Indeed, next to States, organizations are key participants in international legal affairs. In the same vein, many of the resolutions, decisions, statements and drafts produced by international organizations have lasting relevance for the development and interpretation of international law and its main rules. In addition, international organizations and their institutional structure have themselves been elevated into an important object of study and numerous scholarly works on international organizations are produced every year. Issues of international norm-creation, decision-making, and immunity of organizations before domestic courts, to name but a few, continue to be topical and extensively studied.
While there is general agreement on the increasing role played by international organizations, the actual extent of this role and the implications thereof remain the object of intense debate in legal and scholarly commentaries. Indeed, organizations today seem to be simultaneously acclaimed and abhorred; deemed to be the guardian of the international order and the cause of international disorder; taken as the monitors of fundamental rights and the villains of the international rule of law. By the same token, there is a wide range of understandings of what constitutes an ‘international organization’, ranging from an inter-state treaty regime to an autonomous constitutional subject with its own legal order. In this sense, international organizations and their contribution to global governance have perhaps never been as discussed and contested as they are today.
It is in this context that Oxford International Organizations (OXIO) has been built, with the aim of providing practitioners, scholars, legal advisers, policy-makers, and observers of international relations with the most precise, holistic and up-to-date picture of the acts of international organizations possible, and with an increased understanding of the contribution of these organizations. OXIO is the first database for analyzing and understanding key documents of international organizations. Each document is accompanied by a concise expert commentary. In order to capture the full bearing of international organizations on various substantive areas of international law as well as on the field of international institutional law in particular, OXIO includes, but is not limited to, resolutions and decisions of organizations, draft normative texts prepared within the framework of organizations, and constituent instruments of organizations. It also contains court decisions relevant for the institutional law of organizations as well as, occasionally, a treaty to which an organization is a party, where this brings light to issues of institutional law. Until now, there have been no such collection of documents spanning all organizations and areas of international law. OXIO is a unique repository which brings together a variety of documents that have never been consolidated in one single tool – a tool that will be constantly updated with the latest documents and acts of international organizations.
For the sake of OXIO, ‘international organization’ refers to an intergovernmental organization established between states or other international legal actors by a treaty or other instrument possessing at least some permanence of structure. ‘Non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) are excluded from the scope of OXIO. Yet, OXIO is keen to take into account the fringes of the intergovernmental category so defined. Thus, a document of the G20 (an intergovernmental platform with probably an insufficient degree of permanence to qualify as a traditional ‘international organization’) could be relevant for an OXIO headnote. The same holds for a document pertaining to a ‘public-private partnership’ (where the private party-component would preclude it from qualifying as a traditional ‘international organization’).
The Editors are proud to introduce OXIO to the community of all those who are interested in international organizations, and commend Oxford University Press for facilitating the creation of such an innovative and unprecedented database which will allow practitioners, scholars, legal advisers, policy-makers and observers of international relations and global governance to have at their disposal the most extensive, consolidated and updated database on international organizations and their contribution to international life, law, and politics.