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863 citizen groups call on World Bank president to respect Bolivia’s withdrawal from arbitration court

Common Dreams | 16 January 2008

863 Citizen Groups Call on World Bank President to Respect Bolivia’s Withdrawal From Arbitration Court

European Telecom International case against Bolivia should be blocked

Independent review needed on investor-state arbitration, human rights, and global poverty

WASHINGTON, DC - January 16 — More than 800 citizens groups from 59 countries on every continent presented a petition on Tuesday, January 15 to World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick, expressing concerns about the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), whose Administrative Council Mr. Zoellick chairs.

Last May, the government of Bolivia became the first country in the world to withdraw from ICSID, citing the court’s record of favoring narrow corporate interests over the public good. That court is now refusing to respect the Bolivian government’s actions and allowing a case brought by a European telecommunications company to proceed.

The global petition reflects growing concerns around the world about a system of investor rights that undermines democracy and human rights. Many of the signatory groups first became aware of these problems through the notorious Bechtel v Bolivia case. In 2001, a subsidiary of Bechtel sued South America’s poorest country over a failed water privatization project. After five years of intense public pressure, the company dropped the case in 2006.

As noted in the petition, Bolivia is just one of several governments that are challenging the excessive investor protections in free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. ICSID is the most widely used mechanism for enforcing these rules.

Although the Bolivian government followed proper procedures in withdrawing from ICSID, a tribunal is scheduled to be formed soon to hear a case brought by Euro Telecom International (ETI), a company incorporated in the Netherlands whose owners include Telecom Italia and the Spanish Telefónica. ETI owns 50% of ENTEL, which provides more than 60% of Bolivia’s telephone services.

The petitioners include 863 labor, environmental, religious, consumer, small farmer, human rights, women’s, development, and peace organizations from five continents. The Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington, DC-based research organization, was the initial drafter of the petition. Among the other nearly 50 U.S. groups that endorsed the petition are: Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, National Lawyers Guild, Food and Water Watch and Jubilee USA.

For complete copies of the citizen’s petition in:

For a detailed background report on the investor-state dispute system, see the IPS report Challenging Corporate Investor Rule

 source: Common Dreams