The process of the establishment of the Multilateral Investment Court (MIC), to replace or operate in parallel to the current Investor State Dispute Settlement System (ISDS) system, is ongoing under the auspices of the United Nations Commission Trade Law (UNTRAL) Working Group III (Working Group III). In this forum, parties are invited to make submissions with a view to building support for on the establishment of the court. As expected, the submissions reveal varying concerns, perceptions and interests of states.
Most in the International Investment Law community would be aware of the ongoing work by the United Nations Commission on Transnational Trade Law’s (UNCITRAL’s) Working Group III on reforming the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system. This work has been actuated by criticisms of the ISDS system (or, more precisely, the Investor-State Arbitration (ISA) system). A major proposed reform is the establishment of a standing Multilateral Investment Court (MIC) to replace or co-exist with the ISA system.
This essay discusses the opportunity the proposed multilateral investment court (‘MIC’) presents for states to holistically address the imbalances in international investment law by granting local communities a binding international remedy for corporate human rights violations and other investment-related harms. It argues that concerns about granting local communities such a right are overstated especially since it can be done with sufficient guardrails to prevent an upset to the ISDS system. For African states, this should be a priority in the MIC negotiations given corporate abuses of their local communities, especially in natural resource-rich areas, and their obligation under Article 21(5) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1981 (‘African Charter’) to prevent or remedy such exploitation.
The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system in its current form has been viewed as being malignant to the Global South. Africa in particular, has been a strong critic of the system with the most radical action against ISDS coming from South Africa, which has stated that investment arbitration awards are “directly opposed to the legitimate, constitutional and democratic policies of the country”. The United Nations Commission on Trade Law (UNCITRAL) has now mandated its Working Group III (WG3) to lead ISDS reform efforts. One of the key areas of reform under the purview of WG3 is the inconsistency, incoherency, unpredictability and incorrectness of investment arbitration awards.
This contribution has looked at the extent to which the MIC can improve the participation of African local communities in ISDS and ensure a better protection of their rights and interests. It started by discussing the current participation of these communities in ISDS with a view of identifying the challenges these communities are facing before analyzing how the MIC can address some of these challenges. Emphasis should be placed on the selection of MIC members and encourage the appointment of members with broad expertise in (public)international law and public issues and not experts with only commercial background. Indeed, most recent investment agreements contain provisions that protect local communities. The challenge therefore lies in how these agreements are interpreted and applied. In addition, the MIC investment advisory centre should extend its services to local communities and assist them in the drafting and submission of their briefs to investment tribunals.
This note discussed how the protection of foreign investors work with the recent investment claim by Zhongshan against Nigeria as an example. It highlighted that investment treaties and investor-State arbitration protect the interests of foreign investors and provide them the mechanism to enforce their acquired rights at the international level. More importantly, the piece argues that the investment award provides an opportunity for lessons for Nigeria, especially on the need for those that act under the mandate of the State, at any level, to be aware of Nigeria’s international obligations, including towards foreign investors and the far-reaching implications of their actions.
The international adjudication of investor-state disputes is at a crossroads. Since 2017, negotiations have been underway at UNCITRAL for the reform of the current system of dispute settlement, what is typically called ISDS. Different visions of the reformed version of ISDS have emerged. At one end of the reform pendulum is systemic reform, at the other end there is the option of incremental reform, while in the middle there is an option of a combination between incremental reform and systemic reform. Finally, there is an option to move beyond reform and dismantle ISDS.
These recent procedural and substantive trends encompassed in the WAU conference demonstrate a renewed and welcomed interest for arbitration of mega disputes in the African continent and the MENA region, both international arbitration hubs that are gaining prominence. Whilst challenges remain, biases against arbitrating disputes in these regions are being debunked by the experience of Africa and MENA with dispute resolution, the advent of institutions and “arbitration friendly” jurisprudence.