Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kazakhstan Chairs the EurAsEC Meeting

Without question, Kazakhstan is the leading Central Asian state that not only participates in international organizations, but also seeks to lead and transform multilateral institutional discourse. In 2010, Kazakhstan was the first former-Soviet Central Asian Republic to Chair the OSCE. The country also chairs the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) (2011) and retains the SCO Presidency (2010-2011). Recently, at the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia on May 15, Kazakhstan assumed the chairmanship of the EurAsEC Inter-Parliamentary Assembly.

Interestingly, at the May EurAsEC meeting in St. Petersburg, participants discussed the establishment of a EurAsEC court to handle economic affairs between members of the EurAsEC Customs Union, which currently includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Given its commercial purpose, the EurAsEC customs union court will function like a dispute settlement body, similar to that of the WTO. Having just completed a course on international organizations, international courts are particularly fascinating institutions. Unlike domestic courts, international courts lack an institutionalized hierarchy (like the U.S. court system, which has local municipal courts all the way to the Supreme Court), presides over sovereign status, and lacks formal enforcement mechanisms.  

Interestingly, this is not the first time members of EurAsEC created an international court. The EurAsEC Court of Justice, founded in 2000, was charged with settling economic disputes between parties so long as the issue was related to the implementation of a resolution by EurAsEC bodies and the provisions of EurAsEC treaties. In March 2004, the CIS Economic Court of Justice assumed the functions of the EurAsEC Court of Justice. In November 2009, the Community Court of Justice was granted authority to settle disputes within the EurAsEC Customs Union and in July 2010, an amended version of the Statute of the EurAsEC Court of Justice was adopted. Given that the EurAsEC court was formally incorporated into the CIS, granting the CIS Court of Justice jurisdiction over EurAsEC affairs, it will be interesting to observe how this EurAsEC Customs Zone court materializes, its effectiveness in acting as a dispute-settlement authority, and its legal, operational and political autonomy. International courts, particularly dispute-settlement bodies, must be operationally and politically independent in order to fulfill their mandates. 

As Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Session, it will be interesting to see how Kazakhstan approaches the establishment of the court. Kazakhstan must prove to multilaterally engage with the international community by establishing a credible and independent EurAsEC court to handle disputes between members of the Customs Union. While Kazakhstan is leading the law-making efforts in EurAsEC, the real measure of its leadership within Eurasian regional institutions (SCO, EurAsEC, CIS), will be its ability to self-bind to the court's decisions in the future and to provide the court with sufficient funds to carry out operations and make legal decisions independent of third-party political influence. So while I salute Kazakhstan's international engagement as a great first step in the right direction, Kazakhstan's foreign policy makers must ensure that this EurAsEC court retains its autonomy and is not usurped by third-party influence (Russia, CIS, or other states).

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