The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague may not be as prestigious as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) but its decisions should not be underestimated.
This is because the tribunal is the first international body established to help countries settle their disputes through dialogue and arbitration.
Also, its past decisions, especially before the ICJ was set up in 1945, have had profound and far-reaching implications for the international community.
These have consequences even to this day.
For example, the PCA’s ruling on a dispute between the US and the Netherlands over sovereignty on the Islands of Palmas in 1928 set an important and highly influential legal precedent for subsequent ICJ cases over territorial issues between nations.
The PCA’s 1914 ruling that the newly formed revolutionist government of Peru had no right to overrule the economic interests and privileges granted to France by the government it had toppled was a landmark in international relations.
Also, the PCA’s 1913 decision over colonial boundaries in Timor Island between Netherlands and Portugal is a textbook case on what principles should be applied in cases involving international bilateral treaties.
Today, the PCA plays a key role in settling disputes between states and international non-governmental organizations, something that is out of the jurisdiction of the ICJ.
Although not legally binding, PCA decisions can help draw international attention to certain key issues such as environmental conservation and cultural protection.
In recent years there have been calls to expand the role of the PCA and place it under the United Nations as is the case for the ICJ.
Unfortunately, that is not likely to happen anytime soon.
The PCA has recently ruled against China in its dispute with the Philippines over certain islands in the South China Sea.
It is almost certain Beijing will oppose any move to widen its powers.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 20
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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