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For or Against International Arbitration: A Perspective of International Law of Dispute Settlement

Published on June 9, 2015        Author: 

Lady Bracknell is not often relied on as an authority on matters relating to international dispute settlement. Perhaps unjustifiably so; some of the recent debates do bring to mind her remark about end-of-season conversations, ‘when everyone has practically said whatever they had to say, which, in most cases, was probably not much’ (I). ESIL Reflections of Mathias Kumm and Stephan Schill, I hasten to add, do not fall into that category. Even if the readers are not persuaded by their arguments, the precise reason for disagreement is useful for reflecting upon and clarifying one’s own position. I am grateful for the opportunity to offer a few observations of my own, presented from the perspective of international law of dispute settlement.

Kumm and the argument against arbitration

Kumm, it is fair to say, is not a fan of investor-State arbitration. He makes the argument against its inclusion in mega-regional agreements in a forceful, clear, and eloquent manner, which is in many ways appealing. Of course, the cost of making a clear argument about a complicated issue of international law is that pedantic blackletter positivists will (attempt to) side-track the discussion by raising spurious ‘well, yes, but’ objections. Read the rest of this entry…


Reply to Howley and Howse

Published on October 24, 2013        Author: 

I am grateful to Jessica Howley and Rob Howse for their thoughtful comments. This post replies to each of their responses.

My response to Jessica Howley will focus on the first and third questions that both, albeit in different ways, challenge my argument that choice is the right criterion for distinguishing the third party model from other approaches. In the first question, Howley wonders whether public interest underlying international human rights could not provide a better explanation for the human rights/investment law distinction than consent. In the third question, she identifies the choice of an individual to become a rights-holder as also present in the diplomatic protection model, thus blurring the distinction between those approaches. I am grateful to Howley for raising questions about the limits of third party model and will answer them in turn, after first briefly outlining my general argument.

Law of third parties and choice

It seems to me that one is on fairly safe conceptual and legal grounds when discussing the tension between elements of inter-State and investor-State dispute resolution in investment treaty arbitration. In my response to Gourgourinis, I sketched some aspects of this tension, and it has been addressed in leading legal writings (in particular by James Crawford ((2002) 96 AJIL 874, 887-8) and Zac Douglas ((2003) 74 BYBIL 151, 160-94). The LaGrand judgment of the International Court also provides some guidance on the criteria for identifying the presence of individual rights in treaty instruments ([2001] ICJ Rep 466 [77]).

My article suggests that that the image of a spectrum of different expressions of inter-State and individual-State elements in the structure of international dispute settlement regimes is right but may be incomplete. A triangle provides a more accurate portrayal of the legal dynamic of investment law. The three corners of the triangle are human rights, diplomatic protection, and third party rights. International law permits creation of rights of non-treaty parties under two regimes – rights of individuals and rights of third parties – that are in many ways as distinct from each other as they are from the inter-State diplomatic protection regime. The distinction between those models is not intuitively clear, but in technical terms the most distinctive element of the law of third parties is a requirement of consent as a precondition for the creation of rights (VCLT arts 34-37). My thesis is that consent and the choice to provide consent are instrumental for the law of third parties but not the law of human rights and law of diplomatic protection, and therefore would provide a convenient analytical perspective for discussing investment law. Howley questions both aspects of the distinction, and I will respond to these arguments in the following paragraphs. Read the rest of this entry…

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Reply to Gourgourinis

Published on October 24, 2013        Author: 

I am very grateful to Anastasios Gourgourinis, Robert Howse, and Jessica Howley for their remarks about my EJIL article. I hope that my responses will enable me to clarify my position (and thinking) on the aspects of my argument with which each commenter has engaged. Since there is very little overlap between their comments, I will address them in turn, responding to Gourgourinis in this post and then to Howley and Howse in the next.

Gourgourinis makes a strong argument in favour of derivative rights (which the article calls ‘delegated rights’), suggesting that (1) State practice favours the derivative model, (2) individual rights of the human rights character derive from multilateral obligations, and investment law is not multilateral in that sense, and (3) the HICEE v Slovakia award explicitly adopts the derivative rights model. I will take the first and third argument together, first explaining my basic thesis to ensure that our arguments do not pass each other like two doomed ships in storm.

Investment law as progeny of three regimes of international law

My basic thesis is that investment protection law partly borrows and partly diverges from three different regimes of public international law (international human rights law, law of treaties on third parties, and inter-State law of diplomatic protection). Law-makers and adjudicators will conduct the debate within the broad contours of the following propositions. They will debate the appropriateness of analogies; the content of particular rules flowing from analogies; the appropriateness of the particular rules and other related rules; and the appropriateness of analogies reconstructed back from those rules, etc. It remains to be seen how the issue will develop, both in terms of State practice and arbitral decisions, and doctrinal evaluations. At the moment, each perspective seems to dominate particular aspects of the system without being excessively concerned about internal inconsistency. The pragmatic ‘without prejudice to the broader principle’ practice may continue, or a particular perspective may gain dominance, or one perspective could provide a starting point that is tweaked by introduction of special rules, possibly borrowed from other perspectives. To avoid any possible doubt, this is not an argument against delegated rights, but an argument that views delegated rights as only one of a number of plausible ways of articulating international law arguments about investment law. Read the rest of this entry…

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Investment Treaty Arbitration and the (New) Law of State Responsibility

Published on October 21, 2013        Author: 

Martins PaparinskisI am grateful to EJIL:Talk! for hosting the discussion of my article and chapter. I am privileged to have Anastasios Gourgourinis, Jessica Howley, and Robert Howse as discussants. In the following paragraphs I summarise the main arguments made in the article and the chapter.

The starting point of the argument is that investment law partly borrows and partly diverges from pre-existing regimes of international law. An interpreter of an investment protection treaty is required to determine the degree of similarity and difference so as to elaborate the meaning of particular terms, broader systemic structures, and underlying secondary rules. In order to situate investment protection law within the broader international legal order, an interpreter might draw upon multiple legal techniques from established legal regimes. Within the four corners of international law reasoning, the models of direct rights, beneficiary rights, and agency are the most plausible, relying on techniques drawn from, respectively, the law of human rights, law of treaties on third parties, and diplomatic protection. A firm position regarding the legally most plausible model will not be taken. Instead, the implications of relying on the techniques of those regimes will be spelled out, applying across different branches of international law.

The EJIL article under discussion examines whether and how the invocation of responsibility by a non-state actor has affected secondary rules of state responsibility. The shift from the state to the investor as the entity invoking responsibility for the breach of investment treaties seems to have influenced the law of state responsibility in a number of distinct ways. The apparent disagreement about the law of state responsibility may sometimes properly relate to questions of treaty interpretation, while in other cases rules from an inter-state context are applied verbatim. In yet other cases, the different perspectives lead to importantly different conclusions regarding circumstances precluding wrongfulness, elements of remedies, waiver of rights, and, possibly, interpretative relevance of diplomatic protection rules. The forthcoming chapter applies the same analytical perspective to the law of treaties, examining rules on interpretation and treaty-making through the lenses of other regimes of international law. The overall thesis is that the conceptual perspective of plausibly different readings of the genealogy of foundational structures of investment law is very important, but needs to be applied with subtlety: sometimes all the perspectives point in the same direction; sometimes they do not; sometimes they do but for very different reasons; and, in any event, a diligent application of such traditional techniques of legal reasoning as interpretation, resolution of conflicts, and analogies is just as important for reaching the right legal result.


A Reply to Anthea Roberts and Federico Ortino

Published on August 16, 2013        Author: 

Anthea Roberts puts the argument of my book into broader international law perspective by asking three questions. First, she wonders whether there might be a need to reformulate the criteria of customary law to make them more realistic. Secondly, she gently chides me for being too hasty in dismissing domestic public law arguments. Thirdly, she is interested in the politics of the human rights analogy of investment law. I will first say a few words about human rights analogies and customary law, and then explain my position regarding domestic public law.

Human Rights Analogies

In a recent article (‘Investment Treaty Arbitration and the (New) Law of State Responsibility’ (2013) 24 EJIL 617) and in a forthcoming chapter I also address the analogical reasoning in investment law, looking at particular case studies in the law of State responsibility and law of treaties from different perspectives, including that of human rights law. It seems to me that the major conceptual objection (and here I quote from the chapter, footnotes omitted)

is that the human rights analogy fails to capture the structural dynamic of the investment protection regime. In particular, the grant of legal protection to investors is explicitly linked with and justified by utilitarian considerations of enticing the non-State actor to make the rational choice of engaging in an investment activity and therefore benefiting from protection. The proposition that there might be a rational choice to be made to become human so as to benefit from human rights protection strikes one as patently absurd from the perspective of human rights law; conversely, in investment protection law, the question of whether, when, and how a claimant becomes an investor is an important yet conceptually unremarkable jurisdictional box to be ticked in every dispute.

The idea of choice – and with it, an analogy with the consent-based law of treaties on third parties, rather than human rights – provides a powerful analytical perspective for examining different approaches in the law of treaties and State responsibility. It is less obvious that differences in teleology and structure between human rights and investment law pose similar challenges to arguments by analogy regarding primary obligations, where peculiarities of either regime may be appropriately incorporated in the process of comparative reasoning regarding particular rules. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Reply to Sir Frank Berman

Published on August 15, 2013        Author: 

I am very grateful to Sir Frank Berman, Anthea Roberts, and Federico Ortino for their wide-ranging observations about my book. As much as I would like to give an exhaustive reply to each of them, I could not do justice to all of their comments without exceeding the natural limitations of time and space imposed by the forum. I will therefore focus on a limited number of issues, that either seem to me to pose the most serious challenges to the argument that I make in my book, or to which I have given most thought. I will respond to Sir Frank Berman’s arguments in this post, and will address Anthea Roberts’ and Federico Ortino’s arguments in the next post.

Sir Frank Berman raises a number of questions about the style and substance of my argument. In particular, he seems doubtful about the practical validity of the distinction between treaty and customary rules in the area, and suggests that a clearer distinction between interpretation and application, the latter concept opening a wider scope for case-by-case variation, may dispose of my concern about accommodating investment arbitration in the structure of sources and interpretation of international law. I will address these two issues in turn. Briefly, I believe that the treaty/custom distinction is of considerable practical importance. While I entirely agree with everything that Sir Frank Berman says about the distinction between interpretation and application – and I would be so bold as to say that I do not ignore it in my book – it does not affect my argument that the great reliance on earlier arbitral pronouncements suggests a process of interpretation and application taking place regarding the same rule of (general) international law. (Sir Frank also makes certain observations about the effect that different structures of dispute settlement have on development of law; I will address that point in my response to Federico Ortino).

On the Treaty/Custom Distinction

Is it important whether a ‘fair and equitable treatment’ clause is read as a technical term of reference to custom (or a term that does not refer to custom as such but that does not preclude it from being taken into account in the interpretative process), or rather a term that neither requires nor permits reliance on general international law? In technical terms, an answer to such a question would depend on whether the rules of customary law are identifiably different from those that may be determined by interpretation of the treaty language. It is relatively easy to give an affirmative answer regarding rules on administration of justice, where (as I argue in Chapter 8) the basic principles are well-established: in particular, a wrongful act of denial of justice is complete only when the whole judicial system is exhausted, denial of justice focuses on procedure, and denial of justice by substance of the judgment is exceptional. It is not at all obvious, to say the least, that an interpretation not involving general international law would identify different requirements of exhaustion of remedies as a matter of primary obligation because conduct by a particular organ is concerned, or draw the distinction between procedural and substantive unfairness (the fact that most Tribunals do draw these distinctions strongly suggests that they are implicitly relying on customary law). Read the rest of this entry…

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The International Minimum Standard and Fair and Equitable Treatment

Published on August 12, 2013        Author: 

Martins Paparinskis

Martins Paparinskis is a Junior Research Fellow at Merton College, Oxford.

I am grateful to EJIL:Talk! for hosting the discussion of my book, The International Minimum Standard and Fair and Equitable Treatment. I am privileged to have Sir Frank Berman, Federico Ortino, and Anthea Roberts as discussants of my book. A full introduction of the book is available online. In the following paragraphs I summarise the main arguments made in the book.


Fair and equitable treatment, as Judge Rosalynn Higgins put it in the Oil Platforms judgment in the International Court of Justice, is a legal term of art well known in the field of overseas investment protection ([1996] ICJ Rep 847 [39]). It is also a rule of considerable practical importance in dispute settlement on the basis of investment treaties. Judging from publicly available awards, this is the obligation that investment treaty Tribunals are most likely to find to have been breached, awarding reparations on this basis. However, despite its pedigree and importance, the textual formulation of ‘fair and equitable treatment’ is not an example of excessive prescription regarding the legal criteria to be applied to resolving particular disputes. How should an interpreter, whether operating in an arbitral or a less formalised setting, approach the task of interpreting and applying this treaty rule?

 The book suggests that an answer, while not a straightforward and obvious one, may be found within the four corners of public international law reasoning. The treaty rule on fair and equitable treatment must be put in the context of broader law-making processes of international law, appreciating both the continuities and discontinuities with the traditional rules and remedies with regard to the minimum standard of treatment of aliens. The argument is presented in three parts. First, the peculiarities of the law-making process are explained, starting from the 19th century customary law on the treatment of aliens and concluding with contemporary investment treaty law. Secondly, the source of the contemporary standard is identified, suggesting that the modern treaty rules on fair and equitable treatment make reference to custom. Thirdly, a methodology for establishing the content of the modern standard is suggested, synthesising traditional customary law and modern developments, when necessary, by the assistance of careful comparative human rights reasoning. Read the rest of this entry…

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