What is 'International Impartiality'?

26 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2011

See all articles by Frederic Megret

Frederic Megret

McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: October 26, 2011


An early version of this paper was presented at a joint Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law (Adelaide)/Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI, University of Waterloo)/United Nations University (UNU, Tokyo)/ Australian Governance Research Network workshop on the topic of 'Ethical Supports For Strengthening the International Rule of Law in International Affairs.' The paper seeks to assess the content of the notion of international impartiality as it has developed since the 19th Century as key to international governance and the rule of law. The genesis of 'international impartiality' lies in third party adjudication, but the concept blossomed in the interwar with the rise of an international civil service, and has become more generally descriptive of many of the activities engaged in by international organizations including, for example, peacekeeping. Yet impartiality has been shaken by recurrent crises: a crisis of plausibility in a world polarized by antagonistic ideologies and where the search for an Archimedean standpoint sometimes seems illusory; a crisis of desirability as international impartiality seems to sacrifice too much, even for international organizations, of a connection with the domestic setting; and a crisis of morality, as impartiality at times became associated with accommodation with evil. The paper proposes to better problematize international impartiality by looking at how national biases may not be as important today as a range of personal or generic biases; how impartiality should be seen less as a blank slate and more as a critical way of engaging one’s own situationality; and how impartiality may, in ultimate analysis, be less a quality existing in splendid isolation than one that emerges from collegiality and transparency. The paper concludes with a few thoughts on how “international impartiality” is being displaced by other foundations for the legitimacy of international law and governance.

Suggested Citation

Mégret, Frédéric, What is 'International Impartiality'? (October 26, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1949613 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1949613

Frédéric Mégret (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

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