To mark the 2021 International Women’s Day themed #Choose to Challenge, Afronomicslaw.org celebrates Dr Dilini Pathirana’s brilliant contributions to International Investment Law. Dr Pathirana is a Senior Lecturer at University of Colombo, a founding committee member of South Asia International Economic Law Network (SAIELN), an editorial board member of Sri Lanka Journal of International Law (SLJIL) and a contributing editor on Afronomicslaw.org.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of the current patterns of production and consumption, exemplified by GVCs and the global trade and investment order in which they operate. These fragilities have resulted in the aforementioned social, economic and financial crises but what they represent most of all, is a crisis of responsibility in which powerful actors, state and private, that have been the main beneficiaries of GVCs, have failed to discharge their ethical and normative obligations to those most vulnerable within their production and supply chains. To this end, a new approach is sorely needed to address the vulnerabilities of a global economy built on fragile GVC governance that serves as new nodes of global inequality and precarity.
The African Society of International Law (AfSIL) held its 9th Annual Conference on Africa and COVID-19 virtually, on 30 October 2020. AfSIL aims inter alia to promote international law on the continent and to contribute to the development of an international law that expresses the point of view of African States and specialists. The Conference was sponsored by law firms Foley Hoag LLP, Shikana Law Group and Asafo & Co.
In theory, states may be able to invoke Article 73(b)(iii) in defence of measures that are implemented to tackle COVID-19. However, in this post, I have not sought to analyse whether or not invoking Article 73(b)(iii) is a realistic option for some states (especially those in the global south). In a separate post published here, I have suggested that, while (in theory) states might be able to invoke the security exception in the TRIPS Agreement in response to COVID-19, this is not necessarily a realistic option (especially for states that do not possess local manufacturing capacity).
There are two basic problems that may resonate with those who are engaged in teaching and researching international law in developing countries: first, motivating students, and second, seamlessly accessing the requisite resources for teaching and research. This essay presents and outlines challenges and proposes some solutions to address them. This is not to say that these are the only constraints they face, rather this choice is driven by the length of this essay.
At the heart of African decolonization was radical political thinking about international non-domination, and the vision of an international legal, political and economic order that secured this anti-imperialism through global redistribution. This idea of the world, that involved radical reinterpretation of the principle of self-determination, united the political thinking of the tallest leaders of Africa – Azikiwe, Nkrumah, Nyerere, and others.
While procedural reforms are important, substantive reform should be foregrounded. If substantive reforms cannot take place then African states should exit the ISDS scene.
In the opinion of this contribution, African States must be more radical in their approach to investment treaty and ISDS reforms. First, they must retain the role of domestic courts in the resolution of investment disputes in line with their national constitutions. Second, where the case for an international dispute settlement mechanism is made, they must consider a state-state trade and investment dispute settlement bodies at the regional and continental levels for all transnational business disputes. Appeals from domestic courts could lie before regional appellate bodies and from a regional appellate to a continental dispute settlement body. This should provide assurance to investors and other business entities that their disputes can and must be resolved within the African continent.
If Africa is genuinely interested in the reforms of ISDS then the words of the Kenyan delegation at the UNCITRAL working group must be our yards stick; the desired outcome will only be achieved when we begin to consider the substantive issues in an open, frank, free, and transparent manner, noting the need to fast track the conclusion of a holistic reform process of the ISDS. Perceptions and plausible folk theories aimed at nothing but creating hegemony in ISDS must be shunned. My crystal ball tells me that ISDS is here to stay, thus we must make no mistakes, but shape ISDS to suit our future interests.
We are excited about our forthcoming symposium which centres the voices of amazing scholars from the Global South on the Investor-State Dispute Settlement Reform.