Brooklyn Journal of International Law

First Page



Non-state actors are increasingly being considered international legal persons on a case-by-case basis. This articles argues that the common thread in making decisions on whether to treat a non-state actor as an international legal person is one of the function that the actor is playing in relation to other international actors. Gone is the traditional notion that only states are international legal persons, and it is now well accepted that international organizations are also persons. More controversial is the status of self-determination peoples, National Liberation Movements, indigenous peoples, insurgents, belligerents, combatants, private corporations, non-governmental organizations, religious organizations, and individuals. This article undertakes a survey of practice regarding these actors and the practice shows that they are sometimes considered international legal persons and sometimes not. While it is tempting to demand that they enjoy consistent, objective status, practice does not support this outcome. Instead, these actors are treated as international legal persons for certain functions, and only for those functions, perhaps also only in relation to other actors where that function is relevant. Thus, international legal personality for non-state actors is relative and functional.