Bridging the legitimacy gap: A proposal for the international legal recognition of INGOs

Erla Thrandardottir, Vincent Charles Keating

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In this paper, we argue that there is a gap between the de facto and de jure legitimacy of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) that requires more consideration from scholars studying their role in the international system. The gradual acceptance of INGOs as de facto legitimate actors can be seen in the long-term expansion of their role in international norm deliberation. Despite this development, most INGOs still lack international legal recognition, and thus de jure legitimacy. We argue that this gap between de facto and de jure legitimacy creates problems for both INGOs and members of international society. In seeking to address this disjunction, we highlight the limits of the current literature in understanding legitimacy as primarily sociological phenomena through an examination of the accountability agenda. We then propose a template for INGO legal recognition based on the principles that underpin the regulation of charities in English law as a first step in a gradualist argument for the institution of their international de jure legitimacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-220
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Politics
Issue number2
Early online date12 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • Accountability
  • Charity Commission
  • Global governance
  • INGOs
  • International law and order
  • Legitimacy

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Global Development Institute


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