The Republic of Rwanda will become the 112th member state of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on 28 June. PCA Secretary-General Christiaan Kröner explains the court’s “untapped role” in resolving internal armed conflicts.

By Geraldine Coughlan, The Hague

Rwanda will be the 20th member of the African Union to join the PCA, which was founded in 1899. Today, the court is a multi-faceted institution serving the dispute resolution needs of the international community. 

The PCA is often asked to administer arbitrations brought under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The PCA has two such arbitrations currently pending, including one involving the delimitation of maritime borders in the Bay of Bengal. The PCA also administers arbitrations brought by private parties under the many bilateral investment treaties in force around the world, which offer the option of arbitration under the Arbitration Rules of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (the UNCITRAL Rules).

Environmental disputes
Also, the PCA now plays a significant role in the resolution of disputes relating to natural resources and the environment and has adopted a specialized set of arbitration rules tailored to such disputes. These rules are widely used in the context of emissions trading under the Kyoto Protocol and have been the basis of several recent arbitrations.

What are Arbitral Tribunals?
The PCA plays a particular role in the formation of arbitral tribunals. As each tribunal is constituted for a particular case, there is need for an institution to complete the constitution of a tribunal if a party fails to make an appointment. Under the UNCITRAL Rules, the PCA Secretary-General is entrusted with the role of designating an “appointing authority” to make the necessary appointment if the appointment process breaks down. Under many instruments, the PCA is also requested to appointment arbitrators directly. For instance, under the Energy Charter Treaty, the PCA is the appointing authority, as well as the default venue, for State-State disputes arising under the Treaty.

What are Mass Claims Processes?
Mass claims processes are dispute resolution mechanisms established to consider legal claims resulting from significant historical events. Examples include the Iran–U.S. Claims Tribunal or the UN Compensation Commission, established to process claims resulting from the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990. The PCA was involved in the initial establishment of the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal and more recently administered the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission to address legal claims arising from the armed conflict between those two States.

What are Guest Tribunals?
Guest Tribunals are tribunals of other institutions that make use of the PCA facilities as guests, but whose proceedings are not formally under the PCA’s auspices. In practice, Guest Tribunals are usually associated with the PCA’s cooperation agreements with other arbitral institutions that provide for the reciprocal use of facilities. In part due to such agreements, the PCA can conduct hearings or other proceedings anywhere in the world that may be necessary.

Which do you think are the PCA’s most interesting cases?
Well, this is a hard question. All PCA’s cases are interesting to me!

Given the importance of investment in the international system, I find the PCA’s work in investment arbitration quite interesting, although many of these cases are confidential. Yet as a diplomat, I am also particularly interested in the PCA’s State-State arbitrations and their lasting contributions to international law. For instance, one old case between the Netherlands and the United States, which involved an island near the Philippines, remains a significant authority today on the standard for acquiring sovereignty over territory.

I am particularly interested in the PCA’s potential to play a role in areas that other institutions do not. Recently the PCA administered an arbitration between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement concerning Abyei, a disputed area with Sudan. I believe that arbitration can play an untapped role in resolving internal armed conflicts.

What do you like most about your job?
I have the opportunity to steer one of the oldest of international organisations in making a significant contribution in a modern world. The PCA was an ambitious undertaking when it was founded – seeking to help states avoid armed force in solving their differences. Two world wars and the Cold War that followed posed a significant challenge to that goal and for many years the PCA was essentially dormant. Yet today we have more cases than at any point in the organisation’s history.

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