International Arbitration, from Athens to Locarno

By Jackson H. Ralston | Go to book overview
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244. General observations. -- The customary use of the term "International Commissions of Inquiry" seems to date from the first Hague Conference of 1899. Before this time the thing itself had but a rudimentary existence. Its nearest approximations were furnished by some territorial commissions and possibly arbitrations in special phases. It will be noted, however, that territorial commissions have usually had relation to a more or less fixed situation whereas commissions of inquiry concern themselves for the most part with the existence or character of a fact and it may be an examination into the law arising as a result of the fact. From another point of view the older commissions, in so far as they might be called commissions, determined some long antecedent state of affairs, whereas the modern commission relates itself to something of immediate and pressing importance.

A suggestion of a territorial commission of inquiry, by way of illustration, was contained in the proposed treaty between the United States and England dated January 11, 1897, and originally submitted by President Cleveland and afterward by President McKinley, but so amended as to lead to its abandonment. By its provisions1 under Article 6 a controversy involving the determination of territorial claims was to be submitted to a tribunal of six members, three judges of the Supreme Court or Justices of Circuit Courts and three judges of the British Supreme Court of Judicature or members of the judicial committee of the Privy Council, whose award by a majority of not less than five should be final, and if of a lesser number could be final unless either power protested it as erroneous, in which case it was to have no validity.

It is worthy of at least passing remark that so many centuries of warlike disputes should have passed by before the statesmen of the world were able to discover that it was better to resort to a committee of investigation to uncover the grounds of conflict before rather than after their bloody disputes.2

245. The First Hague Conference. -- The Russian draft with ref

Arbitration and the United States, 511.
It is the contention of André Le Ray (Les commissions internationales d'enquête au XXe siècle, 18) that, reviewing history, international commissions of inquiry were not created but only perfected at The Hague in 1899. His supposed precedents are not convincing, as near an approach as any being afforded by the Pacifico case between England and Greece in 1850.


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