The International Civil Servant in Law and in Fact Essay


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The article presents an issue that is of great significance to all nations. It notes a statement made by Chairman Krushchev, which states, “while there are neutral countries, there are no neutral men.” This statement seems to challenge the stability of international permanent organs, such as the League of Nations and the United Nations.

The article traces the history of the institution called as international civil service, and recalls that the Covenant of the League of Nations did not originally contemplate a Secretariat of an international character. Thus, there was, initially, a need to hire people from different nations in order to secure that interests of such nations are represented in the body and that no one nation could have a monopoly in providing material to the international body.

The first Secretary-General of the League, Sir Eric Drummond, first expressed the principle of an international secretariat. For him, those men and women to be appointed by the Secretary-General should be carefully selected, because upon assumption to power, they would no longer represent the respective countries of which they were citizens; rather, they would become international civil servants. Their duties would already be international in character, and they become the servants of the League of Nations.

International civil service is characterized by three major ideas. First, it has an international composition. Second, international civil servants have international responsibilities. Third, the international Secretariat is an administrative organ that must avoid partisanship. Similar to the concept of civil service in United Kingdom, the civil servant is a neutral officer, who must be separate and distinct from another officer who is authorized to make the political decisions.

Another relevant characteristic of the international civil service is independence. This characteristic, together with international responsibility, bars an international civil servant from receiving instructions from a State. Conversely, states and governments are enjoined to respect such independence and international responsibility of the Secretariat. These principles, which have been mostly founded on the experience of the League of Nations, found expression in various provisions of the UN Charter.

These principles have not been easy to maintain. Article 99 of the UN Charter had caused quite a stir when it opened the door towards the exercise of political discretion by the Secretary-General, contrary to the long settled nature of his power as purely administrative.

The problem with the nature of the power of the Secretary-General arose with the inclusion of new provisions in the Charter of the United Nations that have broken away from the principles set forth in the Covenant of the League of Nations. One such provision can be found in Article 97 of the Charter, which places the Secretary-General to the position of “chief administrative officer of the Organization.”

This provision is a big leap for the Charter, as this station had not been expressly provided in the Covenant. If at all, the office of the Secretary-General rested on implied grant of powers, and not as explicit as Article 97. Thus, this provision mandated that the Secretary-General administer the Organization; this removed the discretion of the principal organs to merely delegate such power to the Secretary-General.

Other original provisions of the Charter are found in Articles 98 and 99. Far from the questions raised by Article 97, these provisions put the very nature of the office of the Secretary-General to controversy.

Article 98 mandates that the Secretary-General shall act in such capacity during the meetings of the organs. However, it adds that he “shall perform such other functions as are entrusted to him by these organs.” This provision clearly allows the organs to delegate some of their functions to the Secretary-General, which functions, in all likelihood, would be political in nature. This provision therefore opens the door to the acquisition of a political role by the Secretary-General.

Article 99 then opens the floodgates to more controversial issues. This provision allows the Secretary-General to bring matters to the attention of the Security Council. More importantly, it gives the Secretary-General the power to “conduct inquiries and engage in informal diplomatic activity in regard to matters which ‘may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.’”

Such discretionary powers certainly convert the nature of the office of the Secretary-General from a neutral administrative office to a political one.

Despite these developments, it is believed that the post of the Secretary-General remains a neutral one, provided that neutrality is defined as freedom from the influence of national interests and pressures. The conflict is therefore reconciled by viewing the political powers of the Secretary-General as having an international, and not a national, basis.

Other conflicts, such as the inevitable effect of national interest on the appointed staff of the Secretary-General likewise arose to test the neutrality of the Secretariat. Nevertheless, history proved that the United Nations succeeded in keeping its civil servants responsible to the Organization alone and not to their respective nations.

The international civil servant sure has a lot resting on his shoulders. He is expected to remain unaffected by national pressures. He must make sure that sympathies and antipathies do not cloud his judgment. Thus, his only standard when performing his duties is whether his actions are guided by the goals and rules set by the Organization he serves.

Questions and Discussions:
What is the issue discussed in the article?

The article discussed the issue of neutrality of the office of the Secretary-General. It discussed the development of the position from the time it was conceptualized in the Covenant of the League of Nations up to the adoption of the Charter of the United Nations.

The article discussed how the recent additions to the UN Charter affected the initially neutral and solely administrative function of the Secretary-General. The article likewise discussed how the seeming contradiction can be reconciled so that the provisions of the Charter would not contradict each other.

How does the UN Charter maintain the neutrality of international civil servants?

The UN Charter mandates that appointees of the Secretary-General become internationally responsible officials to the Organization, and no longer to their respective countries. The Charter recognizes that international civil servants should not be neuters who are unaware and apathetic of the concerns of their nations; however, the Charter demands that such concerns be disregarded when the international civil servant acts in the performance of his office.


Hammarskjold, D. (1961). The International Civil Servant in Law and in Fact.

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