Sahib Singh is a member of the international litigation and arbitration group at Skadden and a visiting lecturer at the University of Vienna.
As promised by my last post on the Sempra Annulment decision, this is a comment on the Enron Annulment decision of 30 July 2010. The decision is fascinating for a number of reasons, but this post shall concentrate on the Committee’s analysis of the “only means” requirement under the customary doctrine of necessity. Whilst highlighting the inherent ambiguity in the application of these words, the Committee’s inquisitorial approach may create more problems than it solves. Accordingly, this post concludes with a rough sketch of logical steps a tribunal may take in applying the “only means” requirements under custom.
I. Background & Findings of the Committee in the Enron Annulment decision
By way of background on investor-State arbitration claims concerning Argentina, please see my last post. The Enron Annulment Committee concluded that the original award, rendered in favour of the Claimant, was to be annulled due to the Tribunal’s failure to apply the applicable customary law as represented by Article 25 of the ILC Articles on the Responsibility of State for Internationally Wrongful Acts and failure to give reasons (paras. 377-8, Enron Annulment). In particular the Committee concluded that the tribunal’s reasoning of the “only means” requirement under Article 25 was entirely insufficient: (emphasis added)
369. The first question concerns the legal definition of the expression “only way” in Article 25(1)(a) of the ILC Articles. The Committee notes that the expression is capable of more than one possible interpretation. One potential interpretation is that it has its literal meaning, such that in the present case, the principle of necessity could be relied on by Argentina if there were genuinely no other measures that Argentina could possibly have adopted in order to address the economic crisis. As Argentina points out, there will almost inevitably be more than one way for a Government to respond to any economic crisis, and if this interpretation were correct, the principle of necessity under customary international law could rarely if ever be invoked in relation to measures taken by a Government to deal with an economic crisis. However, that would not mean that it would not be open to a Tribunal to find that this is the correct interpretation, although there are other interpretations that would be equally open to a Tribunal.
370. For instance, another possible interpretation would be that there must be no alternative measures that the State might have taken for safeguarding the essential interest in question that did not involve a similar or graver breach of international law. Under this interpretation, if there are three possible alternative measures that a State might adopt, all of which would involve violations of the State’s obligations under international law, the State will not be prevented from invoking the principle of necessity if it adopts the measure involving the least grave violation of international law. Under this interpretation, the principle of necessity will only be precluded if there is an alternative that would not involve a breach of international law or which would involve a less grave breach of international law.
371. A second question not addressed by the Tribunal is whether the relative effectiveness of alternative measures is to be taken into account. In adopting measures to safeguard an essential interest, a State may in practice not be in a position to know with certainty whether a given measure will prove to be effective, and reasonable minds may judge that some measures are likely to be more effective than others. For instance, suppose that there are two possible measures that a State might take in order to seek to safeguard an essential interest. One is 90 per cent probable to be 90 per cent effective to safeguard that essential interest, while the other is 50 per cent probable to be 60 per cent effective. Suppose that the former measure would (subject to the potential application of the principle of necessity) be inconsistent with obligations of the State under international law, while the latter measure would not. Would the State be precluded from invoking the principle of necessity if it adopted the former measure, on the basis that there was an alternative available? Or could the State claim that the measure taken was the “only way” that stood a very high chance of being very effective?
372. A third question that is not specifically addressed by the Tribunal is who makes the decision whether there is a relevant alternative, and in accordance with what test? Does the Tribunal determine this at the date of its award, when the Tribunal may have the benefit of knowledge and hindsight that was not available to the State at the time that it adopted the measure in question? Or does the Tribunal determine whether, on the basis of information reasonably available at the time that the measure was adopted, a reasonable and appropriately qualified decision maker would have concluded that there was a relevant alternative open to the State? Or does customary international law recognise that reasonable minds might differ in relation to such a question, and give a “margin of appreciation” to the State in question? In that event, the relevant question for the Tribunal might be whether it was reasonably open to the State, in the circumstances as they pertained at the relevant time, to form the opinion that no relevant alternative was open.
II. Analysis of the Committee’s Annulment approach to “only means”
The Committee’s analysis of the “only means” requirement under Article 25 ILC Articles raises three particular points of interest (sections B-D below). However, this post shall quickly examine the background to this requirement. Read the rest of this entry…