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Public International Law Research

A guide that highlights resources and recommended strategies for conducting research on international law topics.

Understanding Basic International Organizations Terminology

International Organizations Terminology

International Organizations

The term "international organization" includes intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), and supranational organizations. The following chart highlights the distinctions between these three types of organizations:

Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs)

IGOs are composed predominantly of states, established by a treaty or other instrument of international law, and possess autonomous organs with a will separate from its individual members. They exist for a variety of purposes, including regional cooperation (ASEAN), security alliances (NATO), or dedcation to a particular purpose (WTO).

UN, ASEAN, Council of Europe, WTO
International Nongovernmental Organizations (INGOs) Generally private, voluntary organizations whose members are individuals or associations that come together to achieve a common purpose. NGOs can be funded privately or through partial government funds. Amnesty International, OXFAM, Doctors Without Borders
Supranational Organizations An international organization with "supranational powers" is capable of binding member states to its decisions and laws. Thus, these organizations often have more governmental authority and law-making power than traditional international organizations. European Union

This Section will provide a brief overview of four major IGOs, including two regional organizations (ASEAN and Council of Europe), the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization. For more information on specific INGOs, run a Google search for the organization and visit their website.


European Union

The European Union is a supranational organization, which means that its member states are bound by the laws, regulations, and judicial decisions of the organization. This type of organization stands in contrast to other, traditional international organizations that typically do not carry governmental and law-making authority. The European Union is not specifically addressed in this research guide.

The European Union will be addressed in a forthcoming research guide, so please check back here for updates! Until then, please check out the following research guides and materials for research on the European Union: 

Background Reading on International Organizations