Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

UN human rights expert Alfred-Maurice de Zayas doesn’t mince his words when it comes to the new generation of trade deals like TTIP. (Photo: UN)

TTIP Is a ‘Revolution Against International Law'

UN expert says conditions set by international pact is a trangression against civil and political rights of all people

Nick Dearden

“Globalization cannot be allowed to become the grand global casino where investors rig the system to guarantee that they always win.” UN human rights expert Alfred-Maurice de Zayas doesn’t mince his words when it comes to the new generation of trade deals like TTIP.

He believes the corporate court system at the centre of the deal, which allows foreign companies to sue governments in secret “is tantamount to a revolution against law, it is retrogression in terms of legality and predictability, a no-man’s land of arbitrary arbitrations.”

De Zayas was speaking to the UN Human Rights Council and his transcript is well worth reading in full. He believes the privileges which big business is gaining through trade agreements like TTIP “constitute an attack on the very essence of sovereignty and self-determination, which are founding principles of the United Nations.”

The ‘corporate courts’ system is “a Trojan horse” threatening “a privatized system of dispute settlement, outside and contrary to … the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

And there’s more.

“Experience shows that many of the 608 arbitration awards that have become known,  have overridden national law and hindered States in the sovereign determination of fiscal and budgetary policy, labour, health and environmental regulation, and have had adverse human rights impacts, also on third parties, including a “chilling effect” with regard to the exercise of democratic governance.”

Officially known as Investor State Dispute Settlement or ISDS, corporate courts bring us closer to a private international system of law which threatens the whole basis of human rights and democracy. De Zayas says:

“An international order of sovereign and equal States … must not be undermined by private attempts to replace it with an international order ruled by investors, speculators and transnational enterprises lacking democratic legitimacy.. international investment agreements are usurping State functions as if the only rights were the rights to trade and to invest.”

What can we do about all of this? We’re constantly told by the British government that hundreds of such courts already exist and we’re trying to defy history. De Zayas disagrees:

“termination of international investment agreements may be a complex task, but much less problematic than, for example, dealing with armed conflict. The world economy has had to adjust time and again to advance the cause of human dignity.

“So it was with the prohibition of the lucrative slave trade, the abolition of slavery and decolonization, which were replaced by other economic models. … eventually investor–State dispute settlement will be recognized as an experiment gone wrong, an attempt to hijack constitutionality, resulting in the retrogression of human rights.”

To start off, de Zayas lays down straightforward guidelines for the British and other governments contemplating deals like TTIP. First, “ISDS should be abolished” as it has no place in a democratic world. He believes states must defy corporate court decisions that violate human rights and even suggests appealing to the World Court to prove “the invalidity of ISDS awards that are arbitrary and manifestly ill-founded.” 

Second, government need to “conduct human rights, health and environmental impact assessments” and give maximum transparency to the negotiations which “must not be secret or ‘fast-tracked’”. Deals must not involve “unreasonable ‘survival clause’”, something which surely covers the 20 years it would take a government to withdraw from TTIP.

Finally de Zayas urges states to work together against this corporate coup, because a “democratic and equitable international order can only be achieved by States in international solidarity.”


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Nick Dearden

Nick Dearden

Nick Dearden is the director of Global Justice Now (formerly World Development Movement) and former director of Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Summit Participants Embrace 'Vaccine Internationalism' to End Pandemic

"Our goal is simple: to end the pandemic as quickly as possible by securing Covid-19 vaccines for all," says the coordinator of Progressive International's four-day virtual summit.

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


As Iran Elects New President, Experts Urge Biden to Rejoin Nuclear Deal, Lift Sanctions

"The Biden administration must remain resolute and seek a break from the disastrous conditions that helped contribute to this result."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


UN General Assembly Condemns Myanmar Junta Violence, Urges Arms Embargo

Member nations voted 119-1 in favor of the resolution, which also calls for a return to the country's fragile democracy.

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


Dems Introduce Abolition Amendment to Scrap Constitution's 'Slavery Clause'

"The loophole in our Constitution's ban on slavery not only allowed slavery to continue, but launched an era of discrimination and mass incarceration that continues to this day," said Sen. Jeff Merkley.

Julia Conley, staff writer ·


'Surreal' and 'Distressing': Climate Experts' Predictions Come True With US Heatwave

"The current heatwave and drought leave no doubt, we are living the dangerous effects of the climate crisis."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·