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Why legitimacy eludes : going beyond the procedural versus substantive distinction to explain legitimacy deficit in international organizations Sergeeva, Galina


The paper examines the concept of legitimacy, its different forms and the way it is related to conceptions of international society. It argues that the legitimacy of international organizations will decline if the relevant audience splits in its perceptions of what is legitimate. In cases where different members of the audience develop incompatible conceptions of legitimacy, institutional solutions to the resulting legitimacy crisis will have limited potential. In these cases, even procedural legitimacy may be out of reach because of fundamental disagreements over even the minimal terms of cooperation. The paper applies this theoretical argument to the case study of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (CHR, or the Commission) and its reform. It finds that the CHR’s legitimacy crisis was precipitated by the change in the normative environment of the international society after the end of the Cold War. As a result of this shift, some members of the CHR developed a substantive understanding of input and output legitimacy, while others promoted a neutral understanding of legitimacy. Because the Commission’s members held incompatible conceptions of what is legitimate and because none were satisfied with the status quo, the CHR’s legitimacy declined. Furthermore, institutional solutions to the legitimacy crisis in this case proved ineffective. Because the shift affected both input and output legitimacies, compromise even on strictly procedural aspects became impossible. As a result, the CHR’s reform did not address legitimacy concerns and the United Nations Human Rights Council suffers from the same “credibility deficit” (General Assembly A/59/2005, 2005) as the abolished Commission.

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