Lo que está ocurriendo en la OMC

Ginebra, 5 de octubre de 2001

Official opening of the Advisory Centre for WTO Law

Ladies and gentlemen,

The 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.

Many 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.

Today, 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.

Most 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:

(i) 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;

(ii) 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.

Simple 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 centres.

Some 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.

It 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.

The 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.

The 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.

I would like to end with some special praise and congratulations.

First 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.

Secondly, 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.

And 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 take-off.