Start International news dating back to 2016

International news dating back to 2016

A single decision by a panel of three unaccountable, private lawyers, meeting in a conference room on some other continent, could gut national budgets and shake economies to the core.

“If we cannot mine in this area,” he remembered telling them, “we will wash our hands [of] Indonesia and go to international arbitration.” The message was clear: Indonesia would be sued, perhaps for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Told what Syahrir said, a Newcrest spokesman wrote that the company “is not aware” Syahrir had made the threat, adding that “it is not something that we would condone.”Interviews with current and former officials from multiple government ministries, four mining companies, and the industry’s lobbying association, as well as thousands of pages of documents reviewed by Buzz Feed News show that other foreign mining giants privately made similar threats, warning that they would sue Indonesia for billions of dollars in damages if the country tried to make them follow the new environmental law. As the mining companies knew well, Indonesia was still reeling from another staggering judgment.

These arbitrators have broad authority to interpret the rules however they want, without regard to precedent and with almost no public oversight. Often, countries are obligated to obey ISDS judgments as if they came from their own highest courts. ISDS is so tilted and unpredictable, and the fines the arbitrators can impose are so catastrophically large, that bowing to a company’s demands, however extreme they may be, can look like the prudent choice.

Especially for nations struggling to emerge from corrupt dictatorships or to lift their people from decades of poverty, the mere threat of an ISDS claim triggers alarm.

But the system puts countries at a striking disadvantage. A country can only defend itself; it cannot sue a company.

Arbitrators who decide the cases are often drawn from the ranks of the same highly paid corporate lawyers who argue ISDS cases.

“We have to review the risks, how strong the claim is.