13 January 2008
Bolivia is being sued by Telecom Italia in a secretive World Bank tribunal, ICSID, even though the Andean nation withdrew from the tribunal in May 2007. Citizen groups from more than 59 countries have called on World Bank President Zoellick to respect Bolivia's withdrawal.
863 CITIZEN GROUPS CALL ON WORLD BANK PRESIDENT TO RESPECT BOLIVIA'S WITHDRAWAL FROM ARBITRATION COURT*
(January 15, 2008) More than 800 citizens groups from 59 countries on every continent will present 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.
Background on the case, the reasons for Bolivia's withdrawal from ICSID, and the record of Telecom Italia in Bolivia.
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.
Source: TRANSNATIONAL INSTITUTE - TNI