Relations of Power and Democratic Accountability in Investor-State Arbitration
Abstract: International investment agreements largely cover today’s transnational investments. These agreements confer certain substantive rights to foreign investors while simultaneously obliging host-states to act in a given manner so as to not interfere with the investments. Most international investment agreements further contain an arbitration clause which provides the investor with the means to enforce the substantive rights of the agreement by directly bringing a claim against the host-state before an arbitral tribunal. Consequently, privately contracted arbitrators have the authority to scrutinize and overrule essentially any sovereign act of the host-state that may affect the investment – judicial and legislative acts included. This practice affects not only the parties of the dispute; when the arbitral award claims superiority to the state’s electoral choices, it further constrains the exercise of sovereignty by the population of the host-state. As a result, the arbitrators who manage the disputes and the investors who initiate them have become central power-holders in the context of both international and domestic law. Meanwhile, the arbitrators and investors alike seem to be unaccountable to the states and individuals who are adversely affected by their power assertions. A commonly accepted feature of democracy is that those who govern and wield power should be accountable to those who are governed and subjected to this power. This thesis relates this notion to a Foucauldian understanding of power, domination and resistance. The primary aim of the thesis is to examine the interplay between the prominent subjects involved in investor-state arbitration and to what degree these subjects hold power in the form of transformative capacity. After this investigation into the relations of power, the thesis scrutinizes the subjugated subjects’ ability to exercise effective resistance through institutionalized accountability mechanisms. The thesis detects an accountability deficit in the regime and concludes that foreign investors and arbitrators hold a dominant position within the context of investor-state arbitration, while states and individuals find themselves in a state of domination. The international investment regime, as it currently stands, is thus found to suffer from a democracy deficit, while it concurrently seems to undermine domestic democratic institutions.
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