official opening of the Advisory Centre for WTO Law today is a (small)
historic moment in its own right. But it is also part of a larger
development: a growth of the judicial settlement of disputes reflected
in a growth in the number of international judicial institutions.
new international rules, laid down in multilateral agreements, have
been created over the last two decades. Many new international courts
and tribunals have been instituted with a view to facilitating the
application and enforcement of those rules. I will just mention the
International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the various War Crimes
Tribunals, for the former Yugoslavia and Central Africa, and the
International Criminal Court. The Panels and Appellate Body of the
WTO's Dispute Settlement Understanding are part of that development,
and probably the most prolific part, with some 240 complaints lodged
and some 56 final judgments rendered in six years.
and within the framework of the WTO dispute settlement system, the
Advisory Centre for WTO Law takes another, almost revolutionary, step
forward in international adjudication, by establishing itself as the
first true centre for legal aid within the international legal system.
major national legal systems have recognized since the 'sixties that
there is a serious problem of access to justice. This is a consequence
of two factors:
increased sophistication of the legal system and also of the court
system in most countries, and certainly in developed countries. This
has led to increased costs of litigation;
continuing social inequality which, combined with the increased
costs just mentioned, made for a restriction of access to justice
for large parts of the population, often precisely those social
layers that were supposed to be supported by the new rules.
pro bono systems were insufficient to solve the problem of
access to justice, mainly because of its sheer size. The steps taken
to remedy this problem consisted inter alia in (State)
subsidized legal aid, often concentrated in so-called legal aid
of the elements that I have just mentioned as contributing to the
considerable problem of access to justice in national legal systems,
can also be recognized in the international legal system with its
proliferation of legal rules and of courts. The WTO is a case in
point: it has expanded the rules of international trade manifold
compared to the GATT and created a new “court” system with a
possibility of appeal. Accordingly, legal advice in this sector is
very expensive. Thus creating considerable problems of access to
justice for developing countries.
is, therefore, fitting that, today, the official opening of the
Advisory Centre for WTO Law marks the start of a true legal aid centre
on an international scale. Individuals appearing as defendants before
War Crimes Tribunals have always been able to call upon pro bono
legal aid. The International Court of Justice has a small fund out of
which costs of legal assistance can be paid for countries who need
such help. But today marks the first time a true legal aid centre has
been established within the international legal system, with a view to
combating the unequal possibilities of access to international justice
as between States. States have banded together and have created a
multilateral treaty supported by a substantial guarantee fund, which
makes subsidization and the provision of high quality legal aid to
States which need such help possible.
seeds of this system can already be found in the DSU. Article 27,
paragraph 2, provides for “additional legal advice and assistance”
(additional, that is over and above the normal assistance to all
Members) “in respect of dispute settlement to developing country
Members”. The Secretariat shall accordingly make available “a
qualified legal expert from the WTO technical cooperation services”
to any developing country. However, such assistance could not go
beyond a certain point because the Secretariat had to preserve its
impartiality, according to this provision. It was inconceivable that
one part of the Secretariat would help a developing country litigate a
case, whilst another part of the Secretariat would help the Panel
write the report on that case.
Centre, however, can go beyond the point at which Secretariat
assistance to developing countries had to stop, and provide
full-fledged, high-quality, legal aid in all stages of the DSU
procedure, including the Panel and Appellate Body stages. As
Director-General and as a person who has always believed in the
importance of providing good legal aid in order to combat inequalities
in access to justice at the national level, this gives me enormous
pleasure and I wish the Centre all possible success in its endeavour.
would like to end with some special praise and congratulations.
of all, to the Swiss Government for hosting the organization and
granting it the same status as the WTO itself and thus greatly
stimulating and simplifying the start of the organization.
I would express my respect to Frieder Roessler, who after a
distinguished career as GATT and WTO legal adviser, and at an age at
which he would be entitled to indulge in his favourite pastime, ocean
sailing, has taken it upon himself, as expert helmsman, to bring the
Centre up to speed as a top quality legal aid institution for
international economic law.
last, but not least, to those who have been dubbed the father and
mother of the Centre, Otto Genée and Claudia Orozco. After
Claudia had to leave Geneva about a year ago, Otto has, with great
perseverance and energy, brought the Centre where it now is: at