Congress Approves Regional Arbitration Court

October 22, 2004

THE first regional office of thePermanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) inThe Hague could open in Costa Rica bythe end of this year.The Legislative Assembly has approvedan agreement between the Costa Rican government,the Permanent Court, and theUnited Nations-chartered University forPeace for the establishment of a LatinAmerican Regional Office of the Court.The regional office will be based at theUPEACE campus in Ciudad Colón, southwestof San José, and have jurisdictionover any issue brought before it by willingparties – except those warranting punishment,as it is not a penal court.“It will rule on cases between privateparties, such as businesses, and conflictsbetween states, such as territorial disputes,all within the framework of applicableinternational law,” said Sergio Ugalde,legal advisor to Costa Rican ForeignMinister Roberto Tovar.UPEACE Vice-Rector George Tsaïtold The Tico Times this week the futurerelationship between the court and the universitywill be mutually beneficial, particularlybecause the university offers graduatedegrees in international law and conflictsettlement (see separate story).“The regional facility of the courtcould use our expertise and our professorsto support the process in due course,” Tsaïsaid. “I would suggest there is a naturallink between the activities of the court andthe academic program.”The regional office would handle arange of cases much broader than otherinternational bodies of law in theAmericas and will be the first-ever internationalpublic and private court ofrights in the region.While the San José-based Inter-American Court on Human Rights, part ofthe Organization of American States (OAS),rules on one segment of public cases –human rights – and the Washington, D.C.-basedWorld Bank’s International Centre forSettlement of Investment Disputes, as itsname implies, rules only on investment conflicts,the regional office of the PermanentCourt of Arbitration can settle all kinds ofdisputes, such as environmental, commercial,investment, and international trade,among others, to the exclusion only ofhuman rights and penal issues.BECAUSE trade disputes will be inits jurisdiction, the regional office couldbecome involved in ironing out wrinklesin Latin American and U.S. free-tradeagreements, according to Costa Rica’sForeign Ministry.It will be able to rule on cases betweenall Latin American and Caribbean countries,as long as all parties voluntarilyagree to abide by the court’s decisionbefore presenting a case.“To date, every issue that has beensubmitted (to the court) in The Hague hasbeen resolved by every party,” Ugalde toldThe Tico Times. “The same is hoped forthis regional branch. However, if itbecomes necessary, the court’s decisionscan be enforced or disputed before the correspondingnational courts, and in casesbetween states, before the UnitedNations.”THE Permanent Court of Arbitrationcooperates with the United Nations andhas adopted the U.N.’s Commission onInternational Trade Law (UNCITRAL)rules for settling trade disputes, but is aseparate, much older, entity.Costa Rica will not be subject to anyinternational responsibility in terms of thecourt’s decisions, the Foreign Ministrysaid.The regional office does not yet have adefined budget, Ugalde said, as the size ofthe staff will depend on the number ofcases the Court handles. He said it willhave an initial staff of three people andgenerate funds from the court fees paid bythose who use it. The Permanent Court ofArbitration in The Hague will administrateall funds.The Foreign Ministry will promote theCourt’s services in conflict resolutionthrough its embassies and diplomatic missionsthroughout Latin America and theCaribbean, and will distribute informationfrom the regional office through its diplomats.ANTONIO Barrios, professor ofinternational politics at the UniversidadNacional (UNA), said the creation of aregional seat of the court here will havethe same effect on Costa Rica as the creationof the Inter-American Court ofHuman Rights here: it will attract internationalattention from high-level officialsand make the country more dynamic.In spite of the current corruption scandals,Barrios said, “Costa Rica continues tobe the place in Central America with thehighest relative level of political stability.”The investigations into political corruption,he added, are a faithful reflection of the factthat the institutions are working well,”which, combined with the presence ofUPEACE, makes the country the best possiblelocation for the regional court.Ironically, the regional arbitrationcourt was proposed by former PresidentMiguel Ángel Rodríguez during a 2001visit to the Netherlands. The ex-Presidentwas placed under house arrest this weekwhile he is investigated for alleged corruptionduring his term (1998-2002).THE century-old Permanent Court ofArbitration (PCA), the first global mechanismfor the settlement of inter-state disputes,was established by the Conventionfor the Pacific Settlement of InternationalDisputes, held at The Hague in 1899 duringthe first Hague Peace Conference,according to its Web site (www.pcacpa.org).The Conference was convened at theinitiative of Czar Nicolas II of Russia “withthe object of seeking the most objectivemeans of ensuring to all peoples the benefitsof a real and lasting peace, and above all, oflimiting the progressive development ofexisting armaments.”

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