Non-compliance, Renegotiation, and Justice in International Adjudication: A WTO Perspective

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Focusing on the expanding realm of international adjudication, this article approaches justice from the domain of the empirical and shows – through a careful, interview-based case study analysis in the WTO context – that justice in the international context is not only a contested concept, but also a multifaceted one, deeply embedded in notions such as the rule of law, fairness, equality, transformation, and cooperation. Whereas in the past, the primary, if not the sole role of international courts was that of settling disputes, in their modern legalised reincarnation these empowered international institutions have come to be seen primarily as enforcement mechanisms. Mechanisms that have been put in place by states in order to give effect to their originally negotiated commitments, and to hold states (or other entities) accountable for the international rules agreed-upon. Within this common enforcement-centred discourse of international courts, in turn, the natural tendency has so far been to think of ‘justice’ mainly through its ‘legal’ or ‘rule of law’ dimension. This article challenges this enforcement-centred discourse. Focusing on the vibrant WTO dispute settlement system (DSS) and its operation throughout the perennial EC–Bananas dispute, the article argues that the current enforcement-oriented debate of international courts, and the WTO DSS in particular, is lacking in several aspects. First, it brushes aside other important roles served by the DSS, and consequently overshadows the manifold social outcomes – beyond rule-compliance – produced by this system. Second, the prevalent rule-enforcement discourse further works in turn as to mask the multiple challenges of justice encapsulated in international disputes reaching the DSS docket, and obstructs the need to explore other conceptions of justice – beyond its legal-procedural meaning – such as global distributive, corrective, or transformative justice, through which the diverse roles and outcomes of the DSS may (and should) be evaluated. Against this backdrop, the article puts forwards a broad multifunctional account of the WTO DSS, which goes beyond the prevalent view of the system as primarily an enforcement mechanism, portraying it instead as a system of multiple, competing, and shifting roles. Among them, providing an orderly mechanism of renegotiation, redistribution, and settlement. Roles that essentially allow WTO Members to readjust their original WTO commitments and reallocate their burdens and benefits of international cooperation, and thereby to arrive at new – at times not fully legally-compliant – but not necessarily ‘unjust’ cooperative and sustainable social outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-268
Number of pages30
JournalGlobal Constitutionalism
Issue number2
StatePublished - 24 Jun 2016


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