Primer | International Intergovernmental Institutions: Part 1

Commonwealth of Nations

The Commonwealth is an intergovernmental association of 53 sovereign nations that were mostly territories of the former British Empire, which support each other and work together towards international goals.

The Commonwealth dates back to the mid-20th century with the decolonisation of the British Empire through increased self-governance of its territories. It was formally constituted by the London Declaration in 1949, which established the member states as "free and equal". The symbol of this free association is Queen Elizabeth II who is the Head of the Commonwealth. The Queen is also the monarch of 16 members of the Commonwealth, known as Commonwealth realms. The other Commonwealth members have different heads of state: 32 members are republics and five are monarchies with a different monarch.

With their common heritage in language, culture, law, education and democratic traditions, among other things, Commonwealth countries are able to work together in an atmosphere of greater trust and understanding than generally prevails among nations.


Council of Europe

Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman, Paul-Henri Spaak, Alcide de Gasperi, and Ernest Bevin launched the process of European construction by founding the Council of Europe in 1949 and setting up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1950 and the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. These men of dialogue, who had lived through two world wars and had first-hand experience of a number of European cultures, were the pioneers of a Europe of peace founded on the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

The Council of Europe advocates freedom of expression and of the media, freedom of assembly, equality, and the protection of minorities. It has launched campaigns on issues such as child protection, online hate speech, and the rights of the Roma, Europe's largest minority. The Council of Europe helps member states fight corruption and terrorism and undertake necessary judicial reforms. Its group of constitutional experts, known as the Venice Commission, offers legal advice to countries throughout the world.

The Council of Europe promotes human rights through international conventions, such as the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence and the Convention on Cybercrime. It monitors member states' progress in these areas and makes recommendations through independent expert monitoring bodies. Council of Europe member states no longer apply the death penalty.


International Monetary Fund (IMF)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is one of the major institutions that grew out of the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement. The creation of the IMF, which now has 184 member states, resulted from the international community's efforts to develop an effective monetary system in order to avoid a repetition of such economic crises as the Great Depression of the 1930s, which ruined millions of people around the world.

The IMF works closely with the World Bank. Its original mandate was to bring stability to currency exchange rates and discipline to the international monetary system, to promote international trade and capital flows, and to support high rates of sustainable economic growth.

The IMF has become the central institution of the international monetary system. It oversees the economic policies of member states, provides economic and financial advice, and gives short- and medium-term financial assistance to countries facing balance of payments problems and other difficulties.

The IMF is funded by the annual contributions of its members, prorated according to their gross domestic product and adjusted every five years. The sums held by the Fund - close to US$287 billion - are used to grant loans to members in financial difficulty. The IMF's other main function is to co-ordinate its members' efforts to achieve greater international co-operation in setting economic policy.


United Nations

The United Nations officially came into being on October 24, 1945. By that date a majority of the 50 countries that had signed the UN Charter in San Francisco on June 26, 1945, had ratified it in their national parliaments. The UN replaced the League of Nations, which had been created by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

The actions of the UN are guided by its Charter, which defines the United Nations' purposes as follows:

  • to maintain international peace and security;

  • to develop friendly relations among nations; and

  • to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights.

The actions of the United Nations are based on certain principles:

  • all of its members are equal;

  • all members must fulfil their Charter obligations;

  • international disputes are to be settled by peaceful means;

  • members may not use force or the threat of force against other members;

  • members must help the United Nations in any action it might take in accordance with the Charter;

  • the United Nations may not interfere in the domestic affairs of any state.

Although UN Member States do not legislate in the manner of a national parliament, through their actions and their votes, they help set international policy.

The United Nations has six main bodies established by the Charter: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat.

All act in concert with dozens of related specialized agencies, funds and programmes in order to develop increasingly co-ordinated but diversified actions in the spheres of peace and security, humanitarian assistance, human rights, and economic and social development.

The United Nations System of Organizations is made up of the United Nations Secretariat, the United Nations Programmes and Funds - such as the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) - and the Specialized Agencies - such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Programmes, Funds and Agencies have their own governing bodies and budgets and set their own standards and guidelines. Together, they provide technical assistance and other forms of practical help in virtually all areas of economic and social endeavour.


World Bank Group

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is a rules-based member-driven international organization, which deals with the rules of trade between its 160 Members.

Since its establishment in 1995, the WTO has performed many important functions in the governance of the global trading system. The WTO administers the WTO trade agreements, provides a forum for trade negotiations, handles trade disputes, monitors national trade policies, and administers technical assistance and training for developing countries.


World Trade Organization (WTO)

Established in 1944, the World Bank Group is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The World Bank is a vital source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. It is not a bank in the ordinary sense but a unique partnership to reduce poverty and support development. The World Bank Group comprises five institutions managed by their member countries:

  • The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development

  • The International Development Association

  • The International Finance Corporation

  • The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency

  • The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes

Together, IBRD and IDA make up the World Bank.

The World Bank Group benefits from having among its leading members a country that has long been a strong proponent of multilateralism.