In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Civil Service

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks on International Organizations

International Law International Civil Service
Xavier Pons Rafols
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0099


The exponential development of international organizations is one of the most characteristic elements of modern society and international law. This development has been possible, on the one hand, by the will of states that, with common interests and needs, have chosen to create permanent institutions to carry out the necessary international cooperation. On the other hand, regarding our concern here, there is no doubt that this has been possible largely because the presence of a group of people dedicated, permanently and at an international level, to work on behalf of the international organization has been gradually articulated. They are the personnel who provide their services to the organization, they ensure its continuity, they manage its multiple activities, and they represent it internationally. This group of people, of various categories and with different conditions of service, makes up what, in general terms, we can call international civil service (fonction publique internationale). Therefore, the development of international administration and, specifically, of the international civil service has been parallel to the same development and evolution of contemporaneous international organizations and has its origins in the work originally developed in the framework of the League of Nations, which continued and was consolidated from the foundation of the United Nations in 1945. The particularities of the different international organizations also entails that each of them has its own public service system, and in each of them the relationships of employment are governed legally in different ways: either by a contractual system or a statutory system, or a combination of both. However, despite the inherent diversity of the system of international civil service and its large technical and material range, from the doctrine and with the support of international administrative judicial decisions, general visions as well as many detailed studies of technical and specific aspects of this system of international civil service or the system of civil service in a particular international organization have been formulated. Thus, in the framework of the United Nations, a common system of rules of staff has been established with the specialized agencies and other organizations involved in the United Nations system, a system of rules that also applies to the pension scheme and judicial guarantees, and whose body for the development of common standards is the International Civil Service Commission. In the framework of the European Union, a complete civil service system of a basically statutory nature has been developed, a system that is similar to that of the other European coordinated organizations. In any case, this law and practice of the international civil service has dealt with some major issues, such as the independence of the international civil servants and the privileges and immunities that guarantee the exercise of their functions independently, the diversity of the law governing the employment relations or the mechanisms of guarantee, and judicial protection of international civil servants against administrative decisions that affect their rights and can be attacked on grounds such as error on a question of law or lack of competence.

General Overviews

Despite the diversity of the legal regimes of the international civil service, it is possible to establish general aspects and categories beyond merely comparative analyses between different international organizations. In this sense, one can speak of real “manuals” on the international civil service (Amerasinghe 1994 is the leading and reference work for this purpose, and Langrod 1968 was initially one of the most complete). These general analyses are based primarily on practice and international jurisprudence related to international civil servants and, in general, refer both to the United Nations system and to a sufficiently articulated and developed civil service system such as that of the European Union (Plantey and Loriot 2005). Some authors, however, formulate their approach specifically on the civil service system of the European Union (Fuentetaja Pastor 2000, Govaere and Vandersanden 2008).

  • Amerasinghe, Chittharanjan Felix. The Law of the International Civil Service: As Applied by International Administrative Tribunals. 2 vols. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

    This is the most comprehensive manual and the leading book on international civil service, with a lot of jurisprudential references, as expressed in the subtitle of the book. The first volume of the book discusses general issues concerning the principles and sources of the legal system of international civil service and the judicial control of the acts and decisions in relation to this area. The second volume presents the most-important specific aspects of this system, such as the appointments and their termination, disciplinary measures, the job classification, promotion, salary structure, rights and obligations, and the right of association.

  • Fuentetaja Pastor, Jesús Ángel. Función pública comunitaria. Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2000.

    A complete work that, on a wide basis of doctrine and jurisprudence, exhaustively analyzes the civil service of the European community. It addresses both the organization of the civil service and its general characteristics, and the professional career and the rights and obligations of the civil servants of the current European Union.

  • Govaere, Inge, and Georges Vandersanden, eds. La fonction publique communautaire: Nouvelles règles et développements contentieux. Pratique du Droit Communautaire. Brussels: Bruylant, 2008.

    A complete and updated study on the civil service of the European Union that, on the basis of case law developments derived from European Union Civil Service Tribunal, also considers in detail the reform of the civil service from 2004, with the modifications in the staff regulations of officials and other agents of the European Union.

  • Langrod, Georges. The International Civil Service: Its Origins, Its Nature, Its Evolution. Leiden, The Netherlands: A. W. Sythoff, 1968.

    A work of historical value (originally published in 1963 in French as La fonction publique internationale: Sa genèse, son essence, son évolution) that takes a comprehensive approach to the international civil service, highlighting its legal diversity as a consequence of the multiplication of international organizations. The historical overview that is presented, on the basis of the work of pioneers such as Dag Hammarskjold, is of particular interest.

  • Meller, Belle S.. The Meller Conference on the International Civil Service. New York University Journal of International Law and Politics 14.4 (1982).

    Special issue of this journal, with a selection of articles from the Meller Conference on the International Civil Service. The selection is of a high level and includes aspects on the independence of the international civil servants (by Roger Barnes and James O. C. Jonah), appointments and secondments (by David Miron and Derek W. Bowett), the unions of international officials (by Paul C. Szasz; see Szasz 1982, cited under Rights and Duties), and recourse procedures (by Gurdon W. Eattles and Eduardo Jiménez de Aréchaga).

  • Plantey, Alain, and François Loriot. Fonction publique internationale: Organisations mondiales et européennes. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2005.

    New edition of a classic and indispensable work that originally was published in French (Droit et pratique de la fonction publique internationale) in 1977 by a single and prestigious author (Plantey) and was subsequently translated into different languages (The International Civil Service: Law and Management, Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1981). This new edition, which incorporates a new author (François Loriot), maintains the same spirit of analysis of the whole system of the international civil service, from the rules, sentences, and practices of the main international organizations, especially the United Nations, their specialized agencies, and the European Union.

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