An International Ombudsman to make non-governmental organizations more accountable? Too good to be true …



Carolei D (2022) An International Ombudsman to make non-governmental organizations more accountable? Too good to be true …. Leiden Journal of International Law, 35 (4), pp. 867-886.

In 2018, the Dutch Government proposed to establish an independent international ombudsman, known as the International Ombuds for Humanitarian and Development Aid (IOHDA), to hold non-governmental organizations (NGOs) accountable for their safeguarding and accountability failures, notably the Oxfam GB sexual abuse scandal in Haiti (March 2018) and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (April 2021). While establishing an international ombudsman would fill a regulatory and accountability gap in global governance, there are many legal and logistic challenges, some of which have been identified by the IOHDA proposal itself, that undermine the creation of this brand new body. Besides the legal and logistic challenges outlined in the proposal, this article argues that the IOHDA is unlikely to succeed because of three additional challenges. First, the IOHDA’s scope is too broad and misinterprets the ombudsman’s jurisdiction and traditional role. Second, the IOHDA neglects that existing ombudsman schemes present limitations in enacting accountability and does not learn any lessons from them. Third, the IOHDA lacks support from NGOs, a driving force, and the principal standard-setters for an international accountability mechanism, like the proposed ombudsman. This article provides a series of recommendations to mitigate these three challenges whilst identifying alternative routes to enact NGO accountability.

Law; Political Science and International Relations

Leiden Journal of International Law: Volume 35, Issue 4

Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online05/09/2022
Date accepted by journal13/06/2022
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)

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Dr Domenico Carolei

Dr Domenico Carolei

Lecturer in Public Int. Law & Public Law, Law