Windowless and Unintelligible: Case Studies of Diplomatic Grey Areas Within International Organizational Diplomacy

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An intricate web of diplomatic grey areas is prevalent within international organizations; accountability and transparency are words frequently floating around in the discussion of international relations. This paper focuses on three case studies: sexual exploitation within United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces as an expression of political corruption, coercive diplomacy as practiced by the African Union (AU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) elusive approach to transparency, accountability, and participation. By analyzing these cases, this paper seeks to shed light on the complex challenges international organizations face in addressing these issues and the implications for global governance, public trust, and accountability frameworks. The paper’s findings highlight the significant impact of political corruption within international organizations and that a behavioral ‘contagion effect’ is experienced, where an environment of impunity further perpetuates the extent to which diplomatic grey areas are prevalent within international organizational diplomacy. Establishing more transparent and legally binding accountability frameworks, designing transparency and accountability systems that support each other, and enhancing and protecting whistleblower policies are the suggested measures to combat diplomatic grey areas and promote ethical diplomacy.

Keywords: Coercive Diplomacy, International Organizations, Political Corruption, Policy, Transparency, Accountability, Global Governance, Public Trust, Ethical Diplomacy, Hard Power, Soft Power, Oppression. 


Diplomacy has achieved many feats since its earliest conceptualization. From diplomatic customs being created and representatives sent abroad as early as the third millennium B.C.E. to its role in Ancient Greece and its significant transformation in the interwar period: how we understand ‘diplomacy’ is continuously changing. [1] Carne Ross, in his tales of an ‘unaccountable elite,’ argues that perhaps diplomacy’s “greatest achievement” is the “lattice of multinational bodies and institutions that spans the globe.”[2] But it is Ross’s commentary that inspires this paper: he comments that the institutions that make up this lattice are “like vast windowless bastions studding the landscape. Although their purpose may be good, their inhabitants nameless and invisible, their workings too often unintelligible and hidden.”[3] Throughout this paper, I outline to what extent Ross’s scathing statement holds truth: from exploring the link between transparency and accountability to identifying three strands of diplomatic grey areas and analyzing relevant case studies, my thesis statement echoes Ross’s beliefs. Without transparency, there is no accountability, and without accountability, impunity sets a precedent, breeding a dangerous, collective behavior that fosters morally grey decision-making. The psychological phenomenon of ‘collectivism’ is a particularly peculiar framework of analysis in the context of international organizations, one that plays a role in identifying and offering policy solutions for ‘the problem’ of grey areas within international organizational diplomacy. Further included in this paper are policy solutions that tie into transparency and accountability as significant themes. But, as Julie Andrews sings in The Sound of Music: “Let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start,” which, in this case, would be defining diplomacy.[4]

R.P. Barston establishes the practice of diplomacy as “advising, shaping and implementing foreign policy,” acknowledging the widening content of ‘modern diplomacy,’ but Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux takes a different approach.[5] Leguey-Feilleux goes beyond diplomacy as a “method of interaction” and comments that diplomacy “implies a method of behavior.”[6] With this in mind, I introduce what should be at the core of diplomacy: at its heart. And, while, to a certain extent, diplomacy will always be about politics and (different expressions of) power, it should be for the people. At its core, it should be about people. Diplomacy, as a ‘method of interaction’ on an international scale, has an ethical responsibility, and its actions must, therefore, be able to be held accountable.

Diplomatic grey areas within international organizational diplomacy can be identified within three strands that interlink and build on each other: firstly, a lack of transparency, which includes the accessibility and ability to disseminate information, inhibits frameworks that measure and effectuate accountability. Second, this lack of transparency, and thus decreased capabilities to hold others accountable, creates an environment of impunity, which bleeds negative behavior models into international organizations founded on notions of collectivism. Lastly, these combined factors create an environment that self-perpetuates cycles of morally grey actions and decisions, furthering the extent to which diplomatic grey areas exist within international organizations.


A lack of transparency, inaccessible accountability, and an environment of impunity are the foundations for understanding the magnitude of harm diplomatic grey areas can cause. The most dangerous consequence is the environment of immunity, the fostered mentality of being able to ‘get away with it.’ In the International Studies Quarterly journal, Emilie M. Hafner-Burton and Christina J. Schneider write about “The Dark Side of Cooperation: International Organizations and Member Corruption,” introducing collectivist behavior models within international organizations. Hafner-Burton and Schneider make the alarmist observation that “substantial literature documents how IOs [international organizations] act like social clubs that teach (or socialize) members to accept and abide by the norms of the organization.”[7] And while that argument has mostly been applied to or been assumed to have been associated with ‘positive’ norms, such as ethical responsibility and a dedication to human rights, the opposite is true too. Hafner-Burton and Schneider affirm that “scholars in the field of organizational behavior have widely documented a contagion effect for corruption at the workplace.”[8] The apparent consequence of widespread corruption is that whistleblowers do not stand a chance if the system is broken, ultimately protecting the wrong people. But all this does not really mean anything. These are merely words describing ‘the possible consequences of harm.’ Ross encaptures this phenomenon perfectly: there is a “difference between description and reality, the indefinable component of human experience,” and that is precisely what is so easy to miss.[9] What leaders in international organizations miss when they are playing a “key role in the institutionalizing of [amoral reasoning].”[10] The true harm of diplomatic grey areas can only be understood after analysis of political corruption ‘in action’ and applying a human rights lens to glimpse who suffers and what is being done about it.


As the world continues to develop, from diversifying nation-states seeking sovereignty to developments in technology and artificial intelligence and their role in international relations, diplomacy will have to continue to adapt. International organizational diplomacy is a response to increasingly complex problems in a continuously growing interdependent world.[11] International organizations and institutions, non-governmental organizations, and supranational organizations have become important actors within diplomacy. It is essential to consider the relationship between states and international organizations, identify how, or to what extent, issues of attribution and responsibility are assigned, and analyze the implications of collective behavior within international fora. Also worth outlining are the conditions that breed political corruption and at what point coercive diplomacy crosses into a ‘grey area’ of international organizational diplomacy. The information below will provide the basis for the case studies to build and draw.

The Relationship between (Member) States and International Organizations

International organizations and institutions practice diplomacy entirely differently than nation-states. From the origin and development of international organizations’ ability to exert influence to the nature of decision-making processes, the relationship between international organizations and member states offers insight into policies on accountability. International organizations obtain jurisdiction through the treaties that create them or through state membership in decision-making processes.[12] And while member state governments remain the “primary actors” in international organizations, international organizations’ authority and capability to make binding decisions is increasing.[13] Advances in communication technology have aided international organizational activity to extend beyond what was previously possible: from global networking with like-minded groups and sharing information instantly to mobilizing support and associated movements and launching campaigns, their influence is now a crucial factor in international affairs.[14] However, the extent of international organizations’ autonomy within their decision-making ‘power’ remains debated. Realism paints a rather grim picture of the scale to which member states exert power within and through international organizational diplomacy.

Realists argue that institutions (in a realist world) “recognize that states sometimes operate through institutions [and that any rules established] reflect state calculations of self-interest primarily on the international distribution of power.”[15] Senior research fellow Dr. Tobias Lenz at the GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies argues that the degree of international organizations’ autonomy depends on the purpose or focus of the organization. ‘General-purpose organizations’ that share certain historical, cultural, and/or geographical features express a sense of “shared purpose:” delegation is widespread, and they tend to “empower autonomous actors.” [16] Examples of such organizations include the European Union, the Southern African Development Community, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. On the other hand, ‘task-specific organizations,’ built around a specific problem or policy domain, conventionally use “majority voting to take decisions and are less predisposed to empowering autonomous actors.”[17] Examples of task-specific organizations include the World Bank, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the European Free Trade Organization. The question of responsibility relies on identifying the specific relationship between states and international organizations and the degree to which states confer powers to international organizations.[18]

Issues of Attribution and Responsibility Within International Organizations

There are several strands of attribution and responsibility that depend on the internal structure of an international organization; the unfortunate truth of most situations, however, is that these strands are easily tangled, and accountability is abandoned. In cases where states exercise clear or effective control over an international organization, any acts committed are attributable to the states in question, thus establishing “primary responsibility under international law.”[19] However, if such control is ambiguous, or the member states themselves commit acts of wrongdoing or ommissions, then the United Nations International Law Commission (hereafter “ILC”) has a formula of attribution in the Articles on State Responsibility for International Wrongful Acts in 2001 with a parallel approach to international organizations.[20] Under the ILC formula, the “debate of responsibility is largely reduced to the technical question of to whom the act should be attributed and by what standard.”[21] The problem lies in that, while technical in implication, the act of attribution becomes a choice, a debate, burdened with political and moral consideration, causing “great legal uncertainty on the application of the rules of attribution.”[22] Further technical complexities lie in the categorization of organs and officials within international organizations on issues of attribution. The term ‘organic link’ is used to refer to the status of an individual or specific entity forming an integral part of an international organization, where the subject in question answers to the rules of the organization with which they are linked or whom they represent.[23] However, even here, the threads of attribution are far from clear and seemingly tangled: for example, peacekeeping forces are considered an organic link to the United Nations; however, the actual troops are supplied by specific member states, where the question of attribution, and hence responsibility and accountability, is muddled.[24]

The growing influence of international organizations and the extent to which more are being established across the world today implies that the nuances and complexities of policies and frameworks on issues of attribution and responsibility will only increase to overlap and exist in conflict with each other.

Collective Behaviour Within International Organizations and Resistance to Change

Diplomacy is rife with ideas of collectivism: the “I” becomes “we,” and individual perspectives, beliefs, and morals are subsumed into a generalized set of standards. Ross explains this phenomenon regarding diplomats representing elected governments, expressing that “the creation of a separate political and moral identity for a group of people – the policy makers of foreign policy – must inevitably risk artifice, arbitrariness and […] a lack of accountability.”[25] Furthermore, this behavior pattern – of what ‘we’ (the diplomats in question) really feel about something – is continuously reinforced through language and action. Through counter-facts and card stacking, Ross confesses that “facts” are often chosen “to suit the policy, and not the other way around.”[26] This is the real danger of collectivist behavior, to carry on with a specific, carefully curated version of reality.

Hafner-Burton and Schneider echo this behavior model within international organizations. The sense of community and collective identity can be taught implicitly or developed subconsciously, where individual staff “adopt the culture and policies that look similar to their peers.”[27] The ‘contagion effect’ of negative behavior patterns also extends beyond merely mimicking and participating in morally grey actions and decisions; ignoring or enabling the negative behavior of others is enough to facilitate the problem. Institutionalized behavior models go beyond amoral reasoning and carry an “institutional reluctance to change.” [28] Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, states that “diplomatic institutions always lag behind changes in “the real word.” They are by their very nature institutionally conservative.”[29] If international organizations are conservative by nature and shrouded in secrecy and a lack of transparency in practice, it calls into question their approach to diplomacy and the extent to which they can operate effectively.

Understanding Political Corruption

Political corruption is defined as the “misuse of public office for private gain entailing dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power,” where Hafner-Burton and Schneider comment that the presence of corruption must coexist with three specific factors.[30] These three factors include control over the allocation of resources, the possibility of obtaining tangible profit, and a “reasonably low probability of detection or penalty.”[31] This is where the conditions for political corruption and collectivist behavior models intersect: low probability of detection or penalty relies on an environment of ignoring or enabling the corrupt behaviors of others. It is why metaphors of collectivism ‘breeding’ negative behavior models and the ‘contagion effect’ are so apt: corruption almost has a life of its own, and an environment of enabling others or looking the other way is enough to make it grow and expand across an organization.

Coercive Diplomacy: Hard Power, Language, and Oppression

Coercive diplomacy can be understood as “forceful persuasion.”[32] It aims to “compel changes in behavior using threats, sanctions, and withdrawal or denial of rewards,” amongst others.[33] There are several conflicting arguments around the use of coercive diplomacy. Some argue that the intent to cause harm is amoral, whereas others view coercion as a helpful tool – this serves as the backdrop for the extent to which coercive action crosses into ‘grey areas’ of diplomacy and to what degree international organizations employ coercive tools.

Within coercive diplomacy, force and pure violence do not “automatically follow” but merely covey the potential threat of violence.[34] Kofi Annan, a former UN Secretary-General, once somberly observed that “you can do a lot with diplomacy, but diplomacy backed up by force, you can get a lot more done.”[35] The use of diplomacy on a non-violent basis does not mean it “rejects coercion” in its entirety, where the use of force or the threat of force is common in all aspects of international relations regarding matters of economic or geographical importance.[36] The argument that coercive diplomacy does not solely employ violent or military tools references “economic sanctions, international condemnation or isolation, and even the promise of rewards like aid, loans, and technology transfers” as justifiable in pursuing peace.[37] However, the slippery slope lies in the event of non-compliance after an ultimatum is left unanswered and there are no “set time limits for unspecified action” as a response to defiance.[38] This coercive action “moves diplomacy into a grey area.”[39] This is also where notions of ‘hard power’ play a role in understanding coercive diplomacy, as scholarship informed by realism continues painting an unrealistic picture of ‘hard’ power only in its most visible expressions.[40]

The subtle, non-tangible expressions of hard power can be found in language, perceived only through a post-colonial lens, decentering ‘The West’ to understand coercive diplomacy within systems of oppression. Pinar Bilgin and Berivan Elis analyze hard power and soft power and make the following observation: “Things do not just happen in politics; they are made to happen, whether it is globalization or inequality. Grammar serves power.”[41] Bilgin and Elis cite that the evidence is most visible in the “Third World,” where “Western representations construct meaning and ‘reality’ in the Third World.”[42] This ties into Ross’s words on the distance between where the conversations are taking place and the decisions are being made and about who is actually impacted by the consequences of those decisions.[43] Within these lenses, expressions of ‘hard power’ include language that perpetuates systems of oppression: it is infused and entangled in the social world to such an extent that international relations are infused with bias in expressions of power. Pinar and Bilgin continue with the idea that notions of power shape the “formation of actors’ consciousness,” where “defining what an actor’s ‘real interests’ are is not free from power relations.”[44] From agenda-setting to decision-making processes, oppressive language is inherent in how international relations are discussed and debated: coercive diplomacy now covers a larger area of actions.

The extent to which coercive diplomacy exists within international organizational diplomacy ranges from the obvious to the less tangible expressions of hard power: from the unprecedented threat of military force from the African Union (AU) against Burundi’s wishes in 2015 following political unrest after a controversial third-term re-election campaign,[45] to the “coercive nature of loans” from Bretton Woods Institutions to Liberia to help rebuild after the Civil War,[46] there are numerous examples of ‘the most visible expressions’ of hard power as coercive tools. The other aspect of international organizations and institutions is that, by nature, they work with and help vulnerable populations. In these instances, examples of political corruption and sexual exploitation point to power imbalances between the staff of international organizations and the people they are meant to protect.[47] Coercion here becomes a literal, vulgar thing where the oppressive power imbalances speak to the failures in the larger systems in play.

Limitations of Research & its Implications

There is an irony in a research paper on international organizational diplomacy’s transparency (and accountability) if the implications are true and if there is a lack of transparency. The task then becomes about finding and accessing relevant research and case studies. The nature of the research is, to some extent, sensitive because it requires the organizations in question to be transparent on the prevalence of ‘grey areas’ and their failings in establishing or upholding effective accountability frameworks and policies. Transparency is so important precisely because the public plays a role in ensuring accountability.[48] The development of technology and the ease with which it is possible to publish information online has created a positive push on mobilizing people to put pressure on international organizations to focus on the humanitarian perspective within any context they operate in but has also ensured the necessity of a heightened sense of secrecy within diplomacy. Scholarship on the transparency and accountability of international organizations and other actors within diplomacy will no doubt be continuous and ongoing as some of the current failings of answerability and responsibility continue to be unraveled and unveiled.


The case studies below detail the uproar and abundance of literature that exists on sexual exploitation within United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces (as an expression of political corruption) and research that tiptoes around coercive diplomacy as employed by the AU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There exists, too, a published growing dissent on the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) approach to transparency and accountability.

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN Peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic

There exists an abundance of evidence and scholarship gathered on sexual exploitation perpetrated by UN peacekeepers dating back to 2010; the heartbreaking reality is that this is still ongoing. An article released on the ninth of June of this year details how more sex abuse allegations have been uncovered in the Central African Republic (CAR) and that sixty peacekeepers will be sent home.[49] The widespread sexual abuse dating back a decade is a testament to the culture of impunity that exists and offers an insight into the immunity enjoyed by the UN and its civilian personnel. Research asserts that although the privileges and immunities granted are important to protect the peacekeepers against unwanted interference by host states, “they significantly contribute to a culture of impunity.”[50] The UN does not have the power to ensure legal accountability because of jurisdictional bars in bilateral agreements, where troop-supplying countries are reluctant to prosecute peacekeepers for acts of misconduct.[51] The abuse of power and sexual exploitation is made worse by the status of the offenders as purported protectors. Francesca Lilly, a contributor to the University of New South Wales Law Journal, posits the following: “As the UN rules the roost, maintaining peace through whatever means it sees fit, we must ponder quis custodiet ispos custodes? Who will guard the guards themselves?”[52] Against the backdrop of the history of sexual abuse, it is clear that current accountability frameworks cannot be said to be effective.[53]

Beyond the perpetrated sexual abuse, the bigger picture points to corruption within the system, emboldened by a “general inefficiency and lack of interest or commitment by judicial staff.”[54] Not only are peacekeepers failing as protectors, but the system founded on humanitarianism is failing the people it is supposed to support. Thus, the cycle perpetuates itself: “Victims’ rights are violated a second time by a lack of access to justice and […] perpetrators are emboldened knowing that it is easy to ‘get away’ with such crimes.”[55] The lack of commitment to justice and accountability made individuals who suffered sexual abuse and wanted to report it to feel like it would be pointless.[56] Further implications of this are that reported incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) are underreported, where the thousands that suffered at the hands of soldiers and other personnel deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, and CAR are left voiceless and without justice. The impunity and lack of accountability around cases of SEA point to a system failing on all accounts of attribution, answerability, and justice.

The African Union and Coercive Diplomacy: The Case of Burundi

The controversialities surrounding the eligibility of then-president Pierre Nkurunziza for a third term resulted in demonstrators taking to the streets and violence exploding with military forces intensifying the domestic crisis.[57] The AU’s threat of intervention never materialized; however, it raises questions as to the sovereignty of member states in relation to the authority of the AU.[58] The attempt to authorize a military intervention was “unprecedented” in that it was the first time the AU threatened to use “military force against the de jure government of one of its members” in the event of non-compliance.[59] Scholarship has since identified why the AU failed to follow through on their threat: beyond Burundi’s “astute diplomacy” and the considerable foreign financial and logistical support that would be needed, the debate on intervention created a politically toxic environment between African governments, where there was a resistance to setting a precedent for future interventions where civilian concerns would override state sovereignty.[60] The implications go beyond initial worries over setting a precedent as, in the incident that the AU Assembly had authorized a military intervention, it would have required a UN Security Council resolution passed under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter.[61] The mission’s mandate referenced the potential use of force “beyond self-defense and in defense of the mission’s mandate,” where the unspecified use and extremity of force raises questions as to the authority of the mission under international law.[62] The role of accountability is also unclear; to what extent the mission would have been monitored and its personnel held accountable for their actions beyond that of self-defense is left unspecified. The case of coercive diplomacy in Burundi opens an avenue for further research and dialogue about the authority of international organizations and institutions in defending humanitarian intervention and the need for clear frameworks of attribution and jurisdiction in the case of ‘unspecified’ action.

The International Monetary Fund and Coercive Diplomacy: Africa as Case Study

Over the last two decades, the IMF has played a significant role in global financial governance. Through loans, the IMF provides emergency financing to economically fragile states and has recently been active in surveilling, recommending, and enacting policy.[63] However, a crucial aspect of IMF loans is conditionality: borrowing countries’ policies “have to be in line with the purposes of the Fund,” where the number of conditions has steadily increased over time.[64] Scholarship has questioned the effectiveness of conditionalities regarding the local regimes and commitment by country authorities and that “serious reforms” are needed in the current practice of long-term loans. [65] The topic of conditionality becomes particularly controversial within a neocolonial lens. Regarding financial aid in Africa, its history fraught with narratives of exploitation and oppression under colonial rule, the introduction of financial aid institutions was primarily understood as “colonial institutions – which were alien as well as tools of exploitation and oppression.”[66] This mindset has prevailed chiefly, with the IMF being a lender of ‘last resort,’ where the ‘choice’ to accept loans and their attached conditions is “an illusion.”[67]

In the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank and IMF increased their monitoring and enacting of policies in African countries by “privatizing state institutions.”[68] Christian Aid estimates that as a result of liberalization, sub-Saharan Africa had lost “$272 billion over the past 20 years,” where had they not been forced to liberalize, they would have been able to pay off their debts and have sufficient funds left over to reinvest in local economies.[69] To offer a clearer example: “Countries like Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, which could feed themselves from 1960 to the 1980s, were, by the 1990s, forced to import food.”[70] As a result, some have described the IMF and World Bank as “a dictatorship of nameless and unaccountable technocrats,”[71] almost exactly echoing Ross’s words of the ‘windowless bastions’ that share “one indivisible characteristic – they are not accountable for their actions.”[72] IMF is an institution founded on coercive policies where they are not held accountable for the consequences of their conditionalities. The history of mandatory loans and associated conditions in Africa necessitates a post-colonial analysis lens.

Transparency, Accountability, and Participation in the World Trade Organization

The WTO has previously been subjected to scrutiny concerning barriers to participation and transparency in the accessibility and dissemination of information. Mark Halle, the Executive Director at the International Institute for Sustainable Development – Europe, and Robert Wolfe, a professor in the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, examine different approaches to transparency and accountability in the WTO and remark that transparency is “one of the fundamental norms of international trade [and] is generally accepted as both legitimate in itself and essential to modern governance.”[73] Although the WTO boasts of dozens of transparency procedures and norms, it still often insists on secrecy and resists participation by social and economic actors.[74] This becomes problematic in the WTO’s summit commitments and regime obligations, where agenda-setting is inaccessible, and there is a clear power hierarchy in decision-making processes. Accountability mechanisms are also crucial in understanding the gaps between “promise” and “action.”[75] At one level, transparency is seen as necessary to measure accountability between the WTO members and the WTO’s broader commitments. Halle and Wolfe affirm the two-directional link between transparency and accountability and introduce a third strand: legitimacy. [76] Thus. transparency and accountability play an essential role in the legitimacy of an international organization.


  1. Establishing Clearer and Legally Binding Accountability FrameworksAs is demonstrated by the example of the policies on attribution concerning peacekeepers as organic links to the UN versus under the jurisdiction of the country to which the forces belong, accountability frameworks may look sufficient on paper but could be more effective in reality. Particularly beneficial would be a combined approach of external evaluation from numerous independent agencies, as well as through an internal, self-critical culture.[77] Scholarship echoes that “the true challenge […] lies in operationalizing and implementing accountability principles in a manner that reflect the nature and needs of the individual organizations,” as well as, arguably, the people the organizations pledge to support.[78]
  2. Designing Transparency and Accountability Systems that Support Each OtherTransparency and accountability can look different within different organizations. The relationship between them “depends on the extent to which they are designed to support each other.”[79] Part of this comes into play in the accessibility and dissemination of research and information: it needs to be relevant and clearly communicated, where the “indefinable component of human experience” always needs to be taken into account.[80]
  3. Enhancing and Protecting Whistleblower PoliciesAccountability should act like a chain of events: if an act of wrongdoing has been committed and witnessed, there needs to be a consequent series of events. And while enhancing accountability frameworks and policies plays an important part in this, internal whistleblowing structures need to be promoted and encouraged where the follow-through on the next steps is widely communicated, and the chain of events set in motion is clear to everyone, including the perpetrator and relevant supervision. In crimes in an international context, including third-party victims, as in the example of sexual exploitation and abuse in CAR and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the chain of events, including attribution and jurisdiction, needs to be transparent here, too, with options to follow up on the timeline or status of the process of justice.
  4. Further Critical Analysis into Conditions that Perpetuate Diplomatic Grey AreasIt is likely that further instances of political corruption, sexual exploitation, and coercive diplomacy in neocolonial contexts will continue to come to light, and calls for greater accountability will sound from individuals and organizations across the globe. It is, therefore, essential that scholarship and research are ongoing into issues that are ‘widespread’ and speak to larger systematic and institutional failings in ethics and accountability. Only at the root can ‘grey areas’ be eradicated and true change achieved. Considering the limitations of this research and the potential shortcomings in the irony of lack of transparency and accessibility to case studies, agents within international organizational diplomacy should invite third-party agencies to evaluate beyond what accountability looks like on paper and how it is practiced and effectuated in reality.


The case studies have painted a rather bleak picture of the realities and extent to which coercion, corruption, and exploitation exist within international organizational diplomacy. But with the ever-changing nature of diplomacy, how states interact, and the growing influence of international organizations, the manner in which all these actors interact and hold each other accountable will continue to change. It is up to us – the scholars, the aspiring diplomats, and the professors and mediators already in the arena, to continue to advocate for transparency and accountability. It is only then that we can truly serve those who need it the most. Those who are at the heart of diplomacy.


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Wilén, Nina, and Paul D. Williams. “The African Union and Coercive Diplomacy: The Case of Burundi.” Journal of Modern African Studies 56, no. 4 (November 2018): 673-696. doi:10.1017/S0022278X18000459.4

Williams, Dr. Abi. “Modern Diplomacy as a Tool for Conflict Prevention?” The Hague Institute for Global Justice. December 3, 2014.

Williams, Paul D. “Special Report: The African Union’s Coercive Diplomacy in Burundi.” International Peace Institute Special Report, Research Report (December 2015).

Zúñiga, Nieves, Matthew Jenkins, and David Jackson. “Does More Transparency Improve Accountability?” Transparency International, Research Report (November 2018): 1-13.


[1] Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux, The Dynamics of Diplomacy (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009), 23-45.
[2] Carne Ross, Independent Diplomat: Dispatches from an Unaccountable Elite (London: C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2007), 9.

[3] Ibid., 10.
[4] Sound of Music, Directed by Robert Wise (United States: Twentieth Century Fox, 1965),
[5] R.P. Barston, Modern Diplomacy, 3rd ed. (Dorchester: Pearson Education, 2006), 1.
[6] Leguey-Feilleux, The Dynamics of Diplomacy (2009), 1-2.
[7] Emilie M. Hafner-Burton, and Christina J. Schneider, “The Dark Side of Cooperation: International Organizations and Member Corruption,” International Studies Quarterly 63, no. 4 (December 2019): 1110,
[8] Ibid., 1110.
[9] Ross, 162.
[10] Hafner-Burton and Schneider, 1110.
[11] Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux, Global Governance Diplomacy: The Critical Role of Diplomacy In Addressing Global Problems (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017), 5.
[12] Ibid., 41.
[13] Tobias Lenz, “The Rising Authority of International Organisations,” German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), no. 4 (September 2017): 2,
[14] Leguey-Feilleux, Global Governance Diplomacy (2017), 62.
[15] John J. Mearsheimer, “The False Promise of International Institutions,” International Security 19, no. 3 (Winter 1994): 13,
[16] Lenz, 4.
[17] Ibid., 5.
[18] Dan Sarooshi, “International Organizations: Personality, Immunities, and Responsibility,” in Remedies and Responsibility for the Actions of International Organizations, ed. Dan Sarooshi (Nijhof, Leiden: Brill, 2014), 20-22, doi: [19] Ibid., 28.
[20] Yifeng Chen, “Attribution, Causation, and Responsibility of International Organizations,” in Remedies and Responsibility for the Actions of International Organizations, ed. Dan Sarooshi (Nijhof, Leiden: Brill, 2014), 33, doi:
[21] Ibid., 35.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid., 58.
[24] Ibid., 60.
[25] Ross, 85.
[26] Ibid., 66.
[27] Hafner-Burton and Schneider, 1110.
[28] Robert G. Patman, and Peter Grace, “Diplomatic Heroism and Positive Peace,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Positive Peace, edited by Katerina Standish, Heather Devere, Adan Suazo, and Rachel Rafferty, (Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022), 315,

[29] Dr. Abi Williams, “Modern Diplomacy as a Tool for Conflict Prevention?” The Hague Institute for Global Justice, December 3, 2014,
[30] Hafner-Burton and Schneider, 1109.

[31] Ibid.
[32] Grace and Patman, 322.
[33] Barston, 45.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Kofi Annan, Transcript of Press Conference by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at United Nations Headquarters, 24 February 1998 (New York: UN Office of Communications and Public Information, 1998),
[36] Grace and Patman, 314.
[37] Grace and Patman, 15-16.
[38] Barston, 45.
[39] Ibid., 45.
[40] Pinar Bilgin, and Berivan Eliş. “Hard Power, Soft, Power: Toward a More Realistic Power Analysis,” Insight Turkey10, no. 2 (November 2008): 7,
[41] Ibid., 15-16.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Ross, 162.
[44] Pinar and Bilgin, 15.
[45] Nina Wilén, and Paul D. Williams, “The African Union and Coercive Diplomacy: The Case of Burundi,” Journal of Modern African Studies 56, no. 4 (November 2018): 673, doi:10.1017/S0022278X18000459.4
[46] Chisato Kimura, “United Nations Peacekeeping: Reevaluating Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN Peacekeepers,” Senior Honors Thesis, Mount Holyoke College (2022), 28, raft.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
[47] Kristen E. Boon, and Frédéric Mégret, “New Approaches to the Accountability of International Organizations,” International Organizations Law Review 16, no. 1 (January 2019): 2-3,
[48] Barston, 333.
[49] Paisley Dodds, “More UN Sex Abuse Allegations in CAR; 60 Peacekeepers to be Sent Home,” The New Humanitarian, June 9, 2023, ublic-peacekeepers.
[50] Linda Mushoriwa, Esther Njieassam, and Pierre T. Bata, “Accountability for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by United Nations Peacekeepers: Case Studies of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic,” in Violence Against Women and Criminal Justice in Africa Volume II, ed. Ashwanee Budoo-Scholtz, and Emma Charlene Lubaale (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), 141-142.
[51] Ibid., 155-156.
[52] Francesca Lilly, “Peacekeepers or Perpetrators? UN Accountability in the Face of International Immunities,” University of South Wales Law Journal Student Series 20, no. 7 (2020): 23,
[53] Mushoriwa, Njieassam, and Bata, 142-143.
[54] Corinne Davey, Paul Nolan, and Dr. Patricia Ray, Beneficiary Perceptions Regarding the Effectiveness of Measures to Prevent Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Humanitarian Aid Workers: A HAP Commissioned Study, (Geneva: The Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International, 2010), 42,

[55] Rosa Freedman, “UNaccoutable: A New Approach to Peacekeepers and Sexual Abuse,” European Journal of International Law 29, no. 3 (August 2018): 963,
[56] Davey, Nolan, and Ray, 42.

[57] International Crisis Group, The African Union and the Burundi Crisis: Ambition versus Reality, Crisis Group Africa Briefing no. 122, (Nairobi/Brussels, September 2016), 4-10,
[58] Wilén and Williams, 678.

[59] Ibid., 674.
[60] Ibid., 673.
[61] Paul D. Williams, “Special Report: The African Union’s Coercive Diplomacy in Burundi,” International Peace Institute Special Report, Research Report (December 2015),
[62] Ibid.
[63] Joyce Chen, “Neocolonialism and the IMF,” Harvard Political Review, October 21, 2021,
[64] Axel Dreher, “IMF Conditionality: Theory and Evidence,” Public Choice 141, no. 1/2 (October 2009): 233,
[65] Ibid., 258.
[66] Mueni wa Muiu, “Colonial and Postcolonial State and Development in Africa,” Social Research 77, no. 4 (Winter 2010): 1312,
[67] Dreher, 258.
[68] Muiu, 1320.
[69] Ibid.
[70] Ibid., 1321.
[71] Patrick Bond, Talk Left, Walk Right: South Africa’s Frustrated Global Reforms, 2nd ed. (Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2004), 91.
[72] Ross, 20.
[73] Mark Halle, and Robert Wolfe, “A New Approach to Transparency and Accountability in the WTO.” Environment and Trade in a World of Interdependence (ENTWINED) (Stockholm, Issue Brief 6, 2010), 3,
[74] Steve Charnovitz, “Transparency and Participation in the World Trade Organization,” Rutgers Law Review 56, no. 4 (Summer 2004): 12,
[75] Halle and Wolfe, 7.
[76] Ibid.
[77] Simon Burall, and Caroline Neligen, “The Accountability of International Organizations,” (paper presented to the Global Public Policy Institute Research paper, Series No. 2., December 31, 2004), 5,
[78] Ibid.
[79] Nieves Zúñiga, Matthew Jenkins, and David Jackson, “Does More Transparency Improve Accountability?” Transparency International, Research Report (November 2018): 1,
[80] Ross, 162.

Emma Holtslag

Belgian-Mexican national, growing up in Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates. From this multicultural tapestry, I am fluent in Dutch and English, with a working proficiency in Spanish and currently learning Arabic. I am in the final stages of my master’s and am currently applying for internships and PhD positions.

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