Promises and Pitfalls in UN Regulation of Judicial Independence

Kiela, Martha | September 30, 2023

This article investigates the current mechanisms and power of the UN to ensure judicial independence in the UN Member States. First, it surveys the UN bodies which play a role in creating international regulations for judicial independence and monitoring Member States’ compliance with them. Second, it analyzes the responses of these bodies to challenges to judicial independence by conducting case studies of Venezuela and Poland, and how these actions compare to those of other international organizations and tribunals. The central questions it seeks to answer are which mechanisms of review and enforcement have so far been the most effective in reaching the goal of judicial independence, where they fall short, and how they can improve.

The case studies show that the UN General Assembly (GA) and Human Rights Council (HRC) generally use the mechanisms available to them effectively and fully. UN action has been crucial to bringing continued attention to human rights violations occurring internationally—even if the UN’s enforcement mechanisms are weak because its resolutions generally lack legally binding authority. The greatest obstacle to achieving international goals of judicial independence, however, is not a lack of UN action, but rather a lack of Member State compliance and collaboration. Without the full cooperation of each of its Member States and engagement of individual citizens, the UN’s attempts to solve this issue will continue to fall short.