Sovereign Expropriation of Property and Abrogation of Concession Contracts
Sovereign Expropriation of Property and Abrogation of Concession Contracts
Leo T. Kissam
Edmond K . Leach
Recommended Citation Leo T. Kissam and Edmond K. Leach, Sovereign Expropriation of Property and Abrogation of Concession Contracts, 28 Fordham L. Rev. 177 (1959). Available at: http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/flr/vol28/iss2/1
RECENT events which have taken place in various parts of the world
have taken the words "nationalization," "expropriation" and
"confiscation" from the exclusive possession of legal theorists and diplomats
and have brought them to the breakfast table. Expropriations of land for
the alleged purpose of agrarian reform and abrogation of concession
contracts from avowed motives of social improvement have become
occurrences of increasing frequency, accompanied by a corresponding
increase in discussion and controversy as to the legality of these procedures.
Most of this discussion and controversy has been concerned with two
basic questions, namely:
1. Can a sovereign State lawfully expropriate property within its
jurisdiction belonging to a foreign national without the payment of
2. Can a sovereign State lawfully abrogate a concession contract it
has entered into with a foreign national?
In the absence of an undertaking on the part of a State not to
expropriate, there is little, if any, dispute as to its power and right to take
for public use any private property within its borders. This is regarded
as an essential attribute of sovereignty. Nor do any international
problems arise with respect to any obligation to pay compensation insofar as
the property of nationals of the expropriating State itself is concerned.
The area of controversy, from an international point of view, is entered
when a State nationalizes, or otherwise expropriates, the property of a
foreign national within its territorial jurisdiction. And this controversy
centers about the question of the existence or non-existence of an
international duty or obligation to pay compensation to the alien who has
been thus deprived of his property by action of the State.
This fundamental problem was thoroughly aired some thirty years
ago in a celebrated controversy between two eminent international law
* Members of the New York Bar.
authorities which took place in the pages of the British Yearbook of
This debate began with an article by Alexander P. Fachiri, which
appeared in that publication in 1925 under the title "Expropriation and
International Law."1 The author's stated purpose was to ascertain
whether there was any remedy available under international law to a
State whose subjects have suffered loss from legislation in a foreign State
providing for redistribution of land on terms resulting in total or
partial confiscation of private property.
Fachiri laid down two propositions which he regarded as forming part
of the "law of nations"-(
) that a State is entitled to protect its
subjects from injury to their property in another State where there has
been discriminationbetween them and the subjects of such other State;
) that a State is further entitled to protect its subjects from gross
injustice at the hands of another State, even if there has been no such
He cited several textual authorities 3 and several cases4 which he felt
supported these propositions, and concluded that there was "universal
recognition" of certain legal principles, among which were the right of
aliens to own property, including land, and the "inviolability" of such
property in the sense that its expropriation was permissible only for
public purposes and only upon payment of full compensation by the
State. He further concluded that if a claim arising out of the
expropriation of a foreigner's land under legislation resulting in total or partial
confiscation of private property were referred to an international court
for judicial settlement, the plaintiff State would have "a reasonable
prospect of success" if either (a) there had been discrimination against
its subjects as compared with the natives in the application of the
legislation, or (b) no compensation was paid (or compensation so inadequate
as to involve a substantial degree of confiscation), even though the law
was applied equally to the subjects of the expropriating State. 5
That recognition of these legal principles was not as "universal" as
Fachiri had assumed was indicated by an answering article which
appeared three years later which took issue with the second of Fachiri's
conclusions. The 1928 edition of the Yearbook contained an article by
Sir John Fischer Williams entitled "International Law and the Property
of Aliens,"' 6 which posed the general question whether or not there existed
(apart from any special terms imposed by a "concession" or a treaty-)
a general rule of international law to the effect that if a State expropriates
the property of an alien without the payment of full compensation it
commits a wrong of which the State of the alien affected is entitled to
complain, even if the measure of expropriation applies indiscriminately
to nationals and to aliens. Drawing upon the same sources as had
Fachiri, the writer reached the opposite conclusion-namely, that this
was not an accepted doctrine of international society, and, furthermore,
that there were good reasons, in his opinion, why it ought not to be
received into the body of international law.7
Williams discarded all of Fachiri's cases as "inconclusive," 8 stating that
none of them constituted satisfactory authority for the establishment of
a general proposition of international law0 After citing a few additional
authorities as equally indecisive of the question, he stated:
The precedents, then, are not decisive. The precise point at issue has never been
settled by any tribunal or other authority of weight; the dicta are not always clear,
and when clear are often conflicting.10
7. Id. at 2.
8. Id. at 6.
9. 9 Brit. Yb. Int'l L. 2 (1928).
10. Id. at 14-15. Williams dismissed Fachiri's cases on the following grounds: Sicilian
Sulphur Monopoly--"the British claim was based on a treaty provision and was never
submitted to any judicial or arbitral decision." Id. at 2. Jonas King--"did not raise the
issue of the international validity of confiscatory legislation applied to an alien equally
with nationals and was not settled by arbitral or judicial decision." Id. at 3. Delagoa Bay
Ry.--"main issue was the legitimacy or otherwise of the cancellation of a railway concession."
Id. at 3. Portuguese Religious Properties--"it does not appear that the case was intended
to be argued on the footing that the action taken applied equally to foreigners and
nationals, and in any event the matter was compromised." Ibid. Italian Ins.
Monopolysince it revealed a "sharp conflict of opinion between eminent lawyers and the Government
of a Great Power on a matter of international law," the doctrine can hardly be claimed
as self-evident. Ibid.
The "Great Power," of course, was Italy, whose legislation gave rise to the dispute.
If the agreement of the party charged with wrongful conduct must be obtained before a
"universal" principle as to its wrongfulness can be laid down, there would be few such
Having thus concluded that the issue could not be decided on the
basis of precedent, Williams attacked the problem from the point of
view of "principles," and concluded that where no treaty "or other
contractual or quasi-contractual obligation" existed by which a State
was bound in its relations to foreign owners of property, there was no
general principle of international law prohibiting it from expropriation
without compensation. 1
Fachiri's rejoinder, which appeared in 1929 under the same title,
"International Law and the Property of Aliens,"" indicated that Williams
had had no more effect in convincing Fachiri of the soundness of his views
than Fachiri had had in convincing Williams. Fachiri re-emphasized the
cases he had originally cited, which Williams had dismissed as
inconclusive,13 referred to several additional authorities,' 4 including those cited
by Williams, and reiterated his main thesis. And there the matter rested.
The "great debate" had ended in a stalemate, with neither side admitting
that its position had in any way been breached.
Three decades have passed since this enlightening, if somewhat
inconclusive, controversy was terminated, decades which have witnessed
the Mexican oil expropriations of the 1930's; the post-World War II
nationalizations of Eastern European nations in the 1940's; and the
world-shaking seizures of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the
Universal Suez Canal Company of the 1950's. More recent headlines
describing events in Cuba, Brazil, Chile and elsewhere indicate that the
end is not yet in sight.
Since the Fachiri-Williams exchange of views there has also been
11. 9 Brit. Yb. Int'l L. 28 (1928).
12. 10 Br. Yb. Int'l L. 32 (1929).
13. Fachiri answered Williams' criticism of these cases as follows: Sicilian Sulphur
Monopoly-the type of treaty provision relied on has "fallen into desuetude" because
the safeguards provided for "have become a part of international common law." Id. at 34.
Even though the case was not submitted to judicial decision, it still has value as
precedent, since cases dealt with diplomatically "afford valuable evidence of the practice
of states, upon which international law is so largely built. . . ." Ibid. Jonas King-no
indication that claim was based on discrimination; fact that compensation was obtained
after United States intervention "shows that confiscation of the property of aliens gives
rise to a claim at international law." Id. at 36. Delagoa Bay Ry.-confiscation of line
and materials was separate point, apart from legitimacy of cancellation of concession, as
to which compensation was to be determined. Although not a case of general legislation,
it is authority for the proposition that "confiscation of allen property is contrary to
international law." Id. at 37. Portuguese Religious Properties-first part of Williams'
criticism is "contrary to the available evidence"; and the compromise was on another
issue. Id. at 38. Italian Ins. Monopoly-still feels that the case supports his views.
14. The Savage Claim (United States v. Salvador), 2 Moore, International Arbitrations
1855 (1852); George Finlay (Great Britain v. Greece), 39 British State Papers, 410-79, 904,
906 (1849-50); Norwegian Ships Arbitration (United States v. Norway), Proceedings of
the Tribunal, the Hague (Perm. Ct. Arb. 1922).
more than a quarter century of decisions by the Permanent Court of
International Justice, and by its successor, the present International
Court of Justice, as well as by international arbitral tribunals of various
kinds. During this period, too, numerous treaties have been concluded
containing provisions relating to expropriation, most notably, of course,
the various treaties which came into existence as a result of the end of
World War II. Numerous diplomatic exchanges and conferences have
contributed their share of material on this subject. Commissions, at
the behest of both the League of Nations and the United Nations, have
dealt with this problem. International law associations of various kinds
have drawn up reports and presented recommendations, as have
conferences of business men concerned with investment problems. Books,
articles in legal, economic and historical periodicals, addresses and papers
delivered at divers times and places-all dealing with this general
problem-have appeared with seemingly increasing frequency.
Has history resolved these issues debated so vigorously thirty years
ago? And if so, in whose favor? Have the "universal" principles of
Fachiri been generally adopted, or have the more skeptical conclusions
of Sir John Fischer Williams found greater acceptance?1 5
The Principleof Equality of Treatment and the Principle of an
InternationalStandard of Justice
Both Fachiri and Williams were apparently in agreement that it would
be a violation of international law for a State, in the passing of
expropriatory legislation, or in the carrying out of such legislation, to discriminate
against aliens in favor of its own nationals. This is the well-known
principle of "equality of treatment," a principle advanced by Fachiri as
one of his two propositions forming part of the "law of nations."
Where they disagreed was as to Fachiri's second proposition-viz.,
whether or not there also existed an international standard of treatment
to which foreign nationals were always entitled, irrespective of whether
this standard of treatment was accorded to the subjects of the
expropriating State or not-a standard of treatment which, if not accorded
to an alien, would constitute a "gross injustice" from which a State was
entitled to protect its subjects. Fachiri maintained that such principle
did exist in international law; Williams, that it did not.
The positions of Fachiri and Williams, respectively, on this issue were
subsequently advanced by the opposing sides in the lengthy diplomatic
exchange between the Governments of the United States and Mexico
during the years 1938-1940, which arose out of the dispute relative to the
15. In 1950, the status as of that date of the Fachiri-wifliams debate was examined
in Fawcett, Some Foreign Effects of Foreign Nationalization of Property, 27 Br. Yb.
Int'l L. 355 (1950). Fawcett's conclusions favored the position of Williams.
payment of compensation to American citizens for the Mexican agrarian
expropriation of American-owned properties.
Mexico, adopting the Williams position, argued that its agrarian
legislation affected Mexicans and foreigners equally, and that a payment only
to the latter to the exclusion of her own nationals would be inequitable.
She referred to Article 9 of the Convention signed at the Seventh Pan
American Conference to the effect that nationals and foreigners are under
the same protection of the law within a given national territory, and
that foreigners cannot claim rights more extensive than those of the
The United States dissented sharply from these views and strongly
pressed Fachiri's argument that there was a minimum international
standard of treatment below which a State was not permitted to fall in its
treatment of aliens, irrespective of how its own subjects were treated.
In a note of August 22, 1938, Secretary of State Cordell Hull expressed
the views of the Government of the United States in the following
The fundamental issues raised by this communication from the Mexican
Government are therefore, first, whether or not universally recognized principles of the law
of nations require, in the exercise of the admitted right of all sovereign nations to
expropriate private property, that such expropriation be accompanied by provision on
the part of such government for adequate, effective, and prompt payment for the
properties seized .... 17
In response to the argument that the measure affected Mexicans and
foreigners equally, Hull said:
[The doctrine of equality of treatment] has invariably referred to equality in
lawful rights of the person and to protection in exercising such lawful rights. There
is now announced by your Government the astonishing theory that this treasured
and cherished principle of equality, designed to protect both human and property
rights, is to be invoked, not in the protection of personal rights and liberties, but as
a chief ground of depriving and stripping individuals of their conceded rights. It is
contended, in a word, that it is wholly justifiable to deprive an individual of his
rights if all other persons are equally deprived, and if no victim is allowed to escape.
In the instant case it is contended that confiscation is so justified. The proposition
scarcely requires answer.1 s
He then strongly asserted the principle of the existence of an
international standard of justice as follows:
The statement in your Government's note to the effect that foreigners who voluntarily
move to a country not their own assume, along with the advantages which they may
seek to enjoy, the risks to which they may be exposed and are not entitled to better
treatment than nationals of the country, presupposes the maintenance of law and
16.  5 Foreign Rel. U.S. 679 (1956) [hereinafter cited as 5 Foreign Rel.].
17. Id. at 687.
18. Id. at 692-93.
order consistent with principles of international law; that is to say, when aliens are
admitted into a country the country is obligated to accord them that degree of
protection of life and property consistent with the standards of justice recognized
by the law of nations.19
In an earlier note of July 21, 1938, Hull had said:
We cannot question the right of a foreign government to treat its own nationals in
this fashion if it so desires. This is a matter of domestic concern. But we cannot
admit that a foreign government may take the property of American nationals in
disregard of the rule of compensation under international law. 20
These two principles of "equality of treatment" and "international
standard of justice" are not, of course, necessarily mutually exclusive
principles. The reconciliation of the two principles is achieved by
the more inclusive proposition that foreign nationals are entitled both
to equality of treatment and to a minimum international standard,
whichever is more favorable. Thus, the foreign national would always be
entitled to the minimum international standard, but at the same time
would also be entitled to equality of treatment with the subjects of
the expropriating State, if such treatment was more favorable than this
minimum standard.2 1
19. Ibid. Probably the classic statement of the principle of an international standard of
justice was given by Elihu Root in his address before the American Society of International
Law in 1910:
"There is a standard of justice, very simple, very fundamental, and of such general
acceptance by all civilized countries as to form a part of the international law of the world.
The condition upon which any country is entitled to measure the justice due from it to an
alien by the justice which it accords to its own 'citizens is that its system of law and
administration shall conform to this general standard. If any country's system of law and
administration does not conform to that standard, although the people of the country
may be content or compelled to live under it, no other country can be compelled to accept
it as furnishing a satisfactory measure of treatment to its citizens." 4 Am. Soc'y Int'l L.
20. 5 Foreign Rel. at 677.
21. The recently completed Harvard Law School Preliminary Draft of the Convention
on the International Responsibility of States for Injuries to Aliens (1959) [hereinafter
cited as Harvard Preliminary Draft] adopts this principle in the following language:
"Neither this Convention nor any rule of international law shall be deemed to- affect
any right which an alien enjoys under the municipal law of the State against which the
claim is made if that law is more favorable to him than this Convention or a rule of
international law." Harvard Preliminary Draft art. 2, at 35.
"If the international standard is higher than that provided by municipal law, it is
beyond doubt that the former should prevail. It is not, however, a necessary consequence
of the paramountcy of international law . . . that the alien is entitled to the benefit of
the international standard alone when the municipal standard is higher than the
international one.... To give an alien less favorable treatment than nationals or the generality
of persons found within the jurisdiction would constitute discrimination against the alien,
which is itself an international wrong under a number of circumstances . . . . It seems
In this connection, it has been suggested that the two principles
which originally had the same end in view have become opposing
principles, and hence have become outmoded in contemporary international
law. And that what was formerly the object of both of these principles
-the protection of the person and his property--can now be
accomplished by the one all-embracing principle of the international
recognition of the essential rights of man. 22
One of the most basic of these essential rights is the right to possess,
enjoy and dispose of private property, and to be secure in the ownership
thereof against the assaults of those who would unjustly appropriate it,
whether these be public or private in origin.
B. General Expropriation v. Individual Expropriation
Attempts have often been made to draw a distinction between the
obligation of a State to pay compensation to foreign nationals in cases of
general expropriations which affect a whole society and cases of ad hoc
expropriations which affect only individual enterprises and properties.
There is in fact little, if any, disagreement with the proposition that in
the latter situation compensation must be paid. (Both Fachiri and
Williams were clearly talking about the former.) But the argument is
made that when States are engaged in nation-wide reforms of their
economic, political or social structure, in the course of which large-scale
expropriations (usually of land) are made, they are under no obligation
to pay compensation. It is asserted that, subject to limitations imposed
by treaty provisions, States are at liberty to carry out such
expropriations in the manner and form they consider best; that they are free
to operate their municipal system of property according to their own
national genius, unaffected by international judicial decisions or legal
desirable, however, to include . . . a general clause ensuring that in no circumstances a
higher national standard will be impaired by resort to any provision of this Convention or
some general rule of international law." Id. at 38 (explanatory note).
The same principle is adopted in article 10 which provides that compensation for
expropriation of an alien's property is wrongful if not "in accordance with the higher of
the following standards:
(a) compensation which is no less favorable than that granted to nationals of such
(b) just compensation in terms of the fair market value of the property unaffected by
this or other takings or, if no market value exists, in terms of the fair value of such
property." Id. at 64.
Item (a) expresses the principle of equality of treatment; item (b) the principle of an
international standard of justice.
22. Garcia-Amador, Second Report to International Law Commission on International
Responsibility, U.N. Doc. No. A/CN.4/106 (1957).
23. See, e.g., Friedman, Expropriation in International Law 207, 220 (1953); Delson,
[T]here is in international law no rule universally accepted in theory nor carried out
in practice, which makes obligatory the payment of immediate compensation nor even
of deferred compensation, for expropriations of a general and impersonal character
llaikned.2th4ose which Mexico has carried out for the purpose of redistribution of the
The communication further pointed out that the agrarian reform was for
purposes of "social betterment"; spoke of a "transformation of the
country"; and asserted that "the political, social and economic stability,
and the peace of Mexico" depended upon the measures taken.2 5
Later, on September 1, 1938, the Mexican Government asserted that
if such acts of general expropriation "were inspired by legitimate causes
and the aspirations of social justice, they have not been considered
unusual or contrary to international law"; and that it was indispensable,
in speaking of expropriations, "to distinguish between those which are
the result of a modification of the juridical organization and which affect
equally all the inhabitants of the country, and those others decreed in
specific cases and which affect interests known in advance and
The contention that social progress justifies total or partial confiscation
was, it is submitted, definitively answered in another portion of Secretary
of State Hull's note of July 21, 1938. While expressing the sympathy of
the Government of the United States with the desires of the Mexican
Government for the social betterment of its people, he stated that the
United States could not accept the idea that these plans should be carried
out at the expense of its citizens. Hull sharply delineated the real issue
by emphasizing that:
The purposes of this program, however desirable they may be, are entirely
unrelated to and apart from the real issue under discussion between our two
Governments. The issue is not whether Mexico should pursue social and economic policies
designed to improve the standard of living of its people. The issue is whether in
pursuing them the property of American nationals may be taken by the Mexican
Government without making prompt payment of just compensation to the owner
in accordance with the universally recognized rules of law and equity 2 7
Nationalization of the Suez Canal Co.: Issues of Public and Private International Law, 57
Colum. L. Rev. 755 (1957); Herz, Expropriation of Foreign Property, 35 Am. J. Int'l L.
243, 249, 258 n.55, 259 (1941). This, of course, was also Williams' position in his debate
24. 5 Foreign Rel. at 679.
25. Id. at 680.
26. Id. at 698.
27. Id. at 674.
The position advanced by Mexico is not without its supporters today.
Thus, Friedman2" states that in the case of a general expropriation, no
legally binding rule can be deduced from the practice of States requiring
compensation to the owners, whether national or foreign, of property
expropriated as a result of such reforms. He states, however, that the
bases on which he formed this conclusion as to general expropriation
have no application to individual expropriation. 9 Professor Bishop3 °
states that there is no agreement today as to whether or not a State is
obligated by international law to pay adequate compensation to aliens,
whose property is taken for public purposes deemed of importance to
the national welfare, when no discrimination exists between aliens and
nationals of the expropriating State. Those favoring this view take
comfort from the United Nations General Assembly Resolution of
December 21, 1952, which declared that "the right of peoples freely to use
and exploit their natural wealth and resources is inherent in their
sovereignty .. .""- The resolution did not refer to any obligation, either
express or implied, to compensate foreign investors.
However, as one authority has observed, the power of a State to use
and exploit its natural wealth and resources includes the power "to enter
into binding agreements for the development" of its natural wealth and
resources. 32 And, in exercising this power, the State has the
obligation "to act in accordance with recognized principles of international
law . . . and with due regard for existing . . . rights . . with adequate,
prompt and effective compensation . . .,,"
If the theoretical justification for nonpayment of compensation in the
case of a general expropriation is that such action is for the social
betterment 34 of the entire nation and that the common good (from which all
28. Friedman, op. cit. supra note 23, at 206.
29. Id. at 211. It is not always easy to distinguish a general expropriation from an
individual expropriation, since the language of the expropriation law may speak in
general terms, but have only specific application.
Thus, the Nationalization Law of Iran which went into effect on May 1, 1951, provided
that the oil industry throughout all parts of the country without exception be nationalized,
but only the Anglo-Iranian Oil Corporation was affected by the sweeping language of the
30. Bishop, International Law 485-86 (1953).
31. See Press Release G.A. 939, U.N. Dept. of Pub. Information, Dec. 1, 1952, pp. 8-12.
See also Re, Nationalization and the Investment of Capital Abroad, 42 Geo. L.J. 44, 51
(1953), for text of resolution.
32. Hyde, Permanent Sovereignty Over Natural Wealth and Resources, 50 Am. J. Int'l
L. 854, 867 (1956).
34. An interesting comment on the "social" justification of general expropriations
without compensation appears in the Harvard Preliminary Draft at 67: "In terms of social
justice, the taking of the property of aliens may create greater hardships to the aliens
whose property it is than it brings benefits to the State seizing the property."
will presumably benefit) demands a common sacrifice, there would seem
to be little basis for demanding such sacrifice from foreign nationals who
are not a part of the nation whose well-being is being improved.
MunicipalLaw as an Excuse for Nonpayment of Compensation
It has been argued that the municipal law of the expropriating State
can nullify the requirement that adequate, prompt and effective
compensation be paid to foreign owners of expropriated property.
Thus, for example, in the arbitration proceeding arising out of the
Shufeldt Claim (1930), between Guatemala and the United States,
Guatemala contended that its decree nullifying a concession contract
was the constitutional act of a sovereign State which was "not subject to
review by afly judicial authority." 5 In answer to this contention, the
This may be quite true from a national point of view but not from an international
point of view for 'it is a settled principle of international law that a sovereign can
not be permitted to set up one of his own municipal laws as a bar to a claim by a
foreign sovereign for a wrong done to the latter's subject.' 36
Mexico, too, while denying the existence of any principle of
international law requiring the payment of compensation for expropriations of
a general character, admitted that she was required under her own
municipal laws to pay compensation, but that the time and manner must
be determined by those laws, 7 which, it need hardly be said, did not
conform to the understanding of the United States Government as to the
meaning of prompt, adequate and effective compensation. The United
States maintained that no government can nullify principles of
international law through contradictory municipal legislation of its own. 38
The general agreement today that municipal law affords no excuse for
the avoidance of international obligations is reflected in article 1 of the
Second Report on the International Responsibility of States to the
International Law Commission of the United Nations, which reads as follows:
The State may not plead any provision of its municipal law for the purpose of
repudiating the responsibility which arises out of the breach or non-observance of
an international obligation. 39
In commenting on this article, the Report continues:
This principle, generally recognized by the learned authorities, has been affirmed in
previous draft codes and in the recorded decisions of the former Permanent Court
35. U.S. Dept. of State Arb. Series No. 3, at 876 (1930).
36. Id. at 876-77. The full text of the arbitrator's report is also found in 24 Am. &
Int'l L. 799 (1930).
37. 5 Foreign Rd. at 680.
38. Id. at 686.
39. Garcia-Amador, supra note 22, at 105.
of International Justice. It is now therefore accepted that the State cannot appeal
to any provision of its municipal law in order to escape a responsibility arising out
of the non-observance of its international obligations.40
The contention that municipal law can override international law is,
in essence, a denial of the very existence of international law itself. If
international law is only valid until it is attempted to be applied to a
specific situation, at which time it may be nullified by the municipal
law of any State at will, then it is a futile thing indeed. It seems almost
self-evident that it is to the interest of all States to have predictable
international rules of law which will be applied in similar situations,
even if those rules must at times be invoked against a State, rather than
to have no rules of international law at all, which of course would be the
case if such rules could be nullified at any time by municipal legislation.
The novel argument has also been advanced that the financial inability
of a nationalizing State to pay compensation itself justifies its being
excused from this obligation, either in whole or in part, or delaying its
performance for an indeterminate period of time.
Thus, the Mexican Government asserted that when a nation
reorganized its economy, the expropriation of private property did not "call
for immediate compensation and, in many cases, not even subsequent
compensation,"' and that the future of a nation "could not be halted by
the impossibility of paying immediately the value of the properties
belonging to a small number of foreigners who seek only a lucrative end."'42
The Government of the United States, in reply to the Mexican
argument, refused to admit that any government could abandon the recognized
principles of international law requiring just compensation "by pleading
economic inability '4 merely because its financial or economic situation
made compliance difficult. If this principle were adopted, the American
Government asserted, "governments would be free to take private
prop40. Id. at 107. This principle is adopted in the Harvard Preliminary Draft, art. 2,
para. 2, at 35: "A State cannot avoid international responsibility by invoking its municipal
law." An explanatory note refers to this principle as "one of the foundation stones of the
law of nations." Id. at 38.
41. 5 Foreign Rel. at 679.
42. Id. at 680. If having an interest in being paid for one's property when it has
been taken for the economic benefit of others is properly described as seeking "only a
lucrative end," then there are few whose motives would be exempt from such
43. Id. at 688-89.
erty far beyond, or regardless of, their ability or willingness to pay, and
the owners thereof would be without recourse. '44
That the Mexican position still commands support is illustrated by a
recent assertion that a demand for adequate, prompt and effective
compensation in a situation similar to the expropriation of the Anglo-Iranian
Oil Company would be "absurd," since it implies that a State which lacks
rtehferaeinconfroommicnpaotisosnibailliiztaietisont o.45make such compensation payments should
To others, including the authors of this article, this alleged "absurdity"
is not so apparent. They feel, with Justice Holmes, that:
In general, it is not plain that a man's misfortunes or necessities will justify shifting
the damages to his neighbor's shoulders.46
Financial difficulties or straitened economic circumstances offer no
justification for the repudiation of obligations, either by individuals or by
nations. If a State is unable to pay for what it takes, then it has no
legal or moral right to take from those who are not nationals of the State.
Beneficial as nationalization may ultimately prove to be to a State and to
its citizens, there is little to justify placing the burden of a State's
economic experimentation upon the shoulders of the foreign investor,
who has neither any voice in the decision to indulge in such
experimentation, nor any status to enjoy whatever benefits may ultimately be derived
therefrom. In short, poverty is no more an excuse for unjust enrichment
in the case of a State than it is in the case of an individual.4 7
Public Utility as a Prerequisiteto Nationalization
Those who assert the existence of an obligation to pay compensation to
foreigners deprived of their property by expropriation, and those who
deny such obligation, generally agree that when private property is taken
for public use, it can be taken only for reasons of "public utility."48
44. Id. at 688.
45. Foighel, Nationalization 76 (1957).
46. Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, 260 U.S. 393, 416 (1922).
47. "The poverty of a country or its asserted inability to pay may not be set up as a
defense to international responsibility." Harvard Preliminary Draft at 79.
"The payment of adequate compensation, including reasonably anticipated profits, would
serve as a useful deterrent to nationalizations as there would be no financial gain to the
State, and therefore less incentive to nationalize." Olmstead, Nationalization of Foreign
Property Interests, Particularly Those Subject to Agreements with the State, 32 N.Y.U.
L. Rev. 1122, 1134 (1957)..
48. "The first of the conditions, laid down by international law, which must be
fulfilled to render a taking in the exercise of eminent domain an internationally legal
expropriation, as contradistinguished from an internationally illegal confiscation, is that the
expropriation must be for reasons of public utility." Kunz, The Mexican Expropriations, 17
N.Y.U.L. Rev. 327, 351 (1940). (Italics omitted.)
Recent treaties entered into by the United States (such as those with the
Netherlands and with Korea) have incorporated such a requirement with
provisions to the effect that property of the other's nationals shall not
be taken "except for a public interest (purpose).""
Some have attempted to minimize the value of this concept. Herz,
for example, has asserted that there is no relevant distinction between
cases of real public utility and mere arbitrary acts; that international
law does not contain its own definition of "public use," but leaves it
to the expropriating State to judge what it considers useful for the welfare
of its people. 50
However, the fact that a concept lacks precise definition does not
necessarily result in its becoming completely meaningless or without
value. If, for example, an expropriation were submitted to an
international tribunal for a determination of the question as to whether the
property expropriated was taken for reasons of public utility, the tribunal
would not be prevented from resolving the issue merely because no
ideally satisfactory definition of "public utility" exists. An exact
definition is neither possible nor necessary. Municipal tribunals throughout the
world daily interpret and apply such seemingly amorphous concepts as
"good faith," "reasonable man," "due process," and the like, although
it would be difficult to define these phrases with any absolute degree of
Furthermore, States, like individuals, are not influenced in their
conduct solely by the threatened possibility of judicial sanctions. Public
opinion is also a powerful factor influencing the conduct of sovereigns
as well as subjects. And the common judgment of mankind would have
little difficulty in distinguishing a bona fide expropriation pro bono
publico, arising out of a real social necessity, from a naked, arbitrary
seizure of private property with no justification other than the power
to do so-an instance of what has been called "imperialism in reverse." 51
Obligation to Pay Compensation as Condition Precedent or as
It has been pointed out that there is a difference between the statement
that international law requires a State which has expropriated foreign
property to pay compensation, and the statement that international law
renders a State incompetent to expropriate unless compensation is paid.52
Proponents of the former view hold that expropriations are not per se
in violation of international law solely on the ground that they are not
accompanied by provision for adequate compensation. They feel that
the validity and justification of the nationalization are not conditioned
upon the fact that compensation is provided for, but rather by the fact
of its being the exercise of a power which the State is recognized as
possessing under international law. 3 Foighel, for example, refers to the
possibility that nationalization without compensation may possibly be
"a legitimate step justified by international law," 54 even though
paytherefore be "an independent breach of the law.a"n5d5 failure to pay may
ment may be required by international law
Those of the opposite view assert that nationalization without
provision for adequate compensation is confiscation, and that as such it is
always unlawful and contrary to international law. 6
Thus, in the Mexican oil expropriation situation, the United States
conditionedthe exercise of the admitted right to expropriate on the ability
and willingness of the expropriating government to pay, and insisted
that the legality of the expropriation depended on it. In Secretary of
State Hull's note of April 3, 1940, this point was made very emphatically:
The Government of the United States readily recognizes the right of a sovereign
state to expropriate property for public purposes.... however ... the right to
expropriate property is coupled with and conditioned on the obligation to make
adequate, effective and prompt compensation. The legality of an expropriation is in fact
dependent upon the observance of this requirement.
As above stated, in the opinion of the Government of the United States the legality
of an expropriation is contingent upon adequate, effective and prompt compensation.5 7
The importance of the distinction between these two positions is
indicated by the fact that if international law comes into operation only
after the expropriation, then only an in personam right to compensation
would exist. On the other hand, if the nationalization is of no effect
unless accompanied by adequate compensation, then an in rem right
to the property itself would continue to exist. In result, the distinction
would be analogous to that between a claim for damages and a claim for
A leading authority on international law has declared that there is
substantial support for the proposition that since payment of full
compensation within a reasonable time is a condition which must be satisfied
by a requisitioning State on account of its actions in time of war, "the
expropriation of alien-owned property in time of peace cannot lawfully
be effected on lighter terms"; 8 that the right to expropriate should be
conditioned upon the power to pay; and that "if it be sought to exercise
that right when evidence of the possession of such power and the
disposition to use it are not evident, there is reason to demand that there
be restored to the owners what may have been taken from them."5 9
The logic and justice of this position seem irrefutable.
Obligation to Pay Compensation
There is substantially unanimous agreement among the authorities
that a duty exists to pay full compensation in the case of an individual
expropriation. And in the case of general expropriation, the majority
of authorities also support the obligation to pay full compensation and
not merely to treat foreign nationals in the same manner as citizens
of the expropriating State.
The recent response of the Committee on the Study of Nationalization
of the American Branch of the International Law Association to a
questionnaire of the International Committee on Nationalization strongly
asserted as one of three basic principles governing the treatment of alien
interests in property and contract that:
The taking of alien interests must be accompanied by full compensation.6"
In commenting on this principle, the Committee stated:
This basic requirement-full compensation, promptly and effectively paid-has
received repeated expression in legal principle and in positive law. . . . In substance,
it equates with 'the principle of respect for vested fights' to which the Permanent
Court of International Justice repeatedly lent its authority. 61
The Chairman of the Committee on Protection of Investments Abroad
in Time of Peace of the International Bar Association recently set forth
several principles in his report submitted to the Seventh Conference
held in Cologne, Germany, in July 1958, including one (principle 2)
which declared that "alien private property may only be expropriated
on the grounds of public interest and against adequate compensation."6
Principle 5 provided that "expropriations ... which are not in accordance
with the conditions of principles 1-4 are contrary to international law."6
Thus, the two principles taken together stand for the proposition that in
the absence of adequate compensation, an expropriation of alien
property is a violation of international law. Article 9 of the Second Report
of Garcia-Amador to the International Law Commission, dated February
15, 1957, reads as follows:
The State is responsible for the injury caused to an alien by the expropriation of
his property, save in so far as the measure in question is justified on grounds of public
interest and the alien receives adequate compensation.6 4
Even Foighel, 65 who is a strong defender of an unlimited right to
nationalize, concludes that recent developments in international law
seem to tend toward a rule that nationalization entails an obligation to
pay compensation. He points out that municipal legislation of some
countries (e.g., France) provides "presumably to comply with a legal
obligation-that foreigners have a claim to a special legal position with
regard to compensation for nationalized property, irrespective of the fact
that the country's own nationals receive different and less favorable
treatment."66 He further observes that "practical
considerations"-determined by the international interests of all countries-support an
unqualified liability to pay compensation in the case of the nationalization
of foreign property. Foighel also suggests that the present policy of
incorporating into treaties provisions providing for compensation to
foreign nations by States which nationalize the property of their own
citizens without compensation must be accepted as "conducing to the
creation-or the confirmation of-the international legal maxim that the
nationalization of foreign property involves liability for the nationalizing
state to pay compensation."6 7 He concludes that a rule to this effect
that nationalization of foreign property involves a liability to pay
compensation would be "in the mutual interests of all states,168 a proposition
with which, at least from a practical point of view, it is difficult to
62. Ehlers, Report, Protection of Investments Abroad in Time of Peace, International
Bar Association, Seventh Conference 17 (1958).
64. Garcia-Amador, supra note 22, at English Annex 5.
65. Foighel, op. cit. supra note 45, at 85-87.
66. Id. at 85.
68. Id. at 87.
It is worth noting, in this connection, that in the two nationalizations
of recent years which have caused the greatest international
reverberations, those of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the Universal Suez
Canal Company, provisions for compensation, inadequate though they
may have proved to be, were nevertheless included in the nationalization
legislation in both instances, indicating at least token admission of what
seems to be the generally accepted rule of present international law.
LEGALITY OF ABROGATION BY A SOVEREIGN OF A CONCESSION
CONTRACT WITH A FOREIGN NATIONAL
Whatever the status of the law or of informed opinion may be as to
the obligation of a State to pay compensation to a foreign national whose
property has been expropriated, there is substantially unanimous
agreement with the proposition that if adequate compensation is paid, and
if there are no treaty or other restrictions to the contrary, the State
has the power and the right under international law to expropriate, for
reasons of public utility, any property within its territorial jurisdiction.
But what if a State, by granting a concession to a foreign national, has
either expressly or impliedly contracted not to expropriate? Do the same
principles that govern the legality of the expropriation of property by a
State also govern the legality of its abrogation of a concession
agreement? In other words, does a sovereign's right to expropriate property
within its jurisdiction include the right to expropriate property which
by contract or concession it has, either expressly or by implication,
covenanted not to expropriate?
Nature of a Concession
The nature, character and legal status of a concession agreement have
never been clearly determined nor its definition agreed upon. It is not in
fact a treaty, since one of the parties is a private individual or
corporation. Nor is it simply a private contractual agreement, since the other
party is a sovereign State. The State of the individual or corporate party
to the agreement is also frequently involved directly or indirectly. In
addition to its purely contractual aspects, the agreement moreover has
attributes which make it similar to an interest in land.
Most concessions have certain basic elements in common: the parties
to the concession agreement are a State on the one hand, and a foreign
national (either individual or corporate) on the other; the concession
is usually granted for a specified term of years; the agreements are
generally entered into by a corporation of a nation having capital, skilled
labor, and technical knowledge, with the government of a nation having
natural resources needing development. These agreements are ordinarily
entered into for the purpose of developing these resources to the
mutual profit of the State and the concessionaire. They have been aptly
described as "economic development agreements." 69
What Law Governs a Concession Agreement?
The question of what law governs a concession agreement has been
answered in various ways.
Some argue that concessions are governed strictly by municipal law.
They contend that there are only two kinds of law, international law
and municipal law; that international law governs relationships between
sovereign States only; and that all other relationships are governed by
municipal law. Since a concession agreement is not an agreement between
two sovereign States, under this theory it can only be a private contract
and hence can only be governed by municipal law.70
It has been said that unless a contrary intention appears, a concession
is prima facie subject to municipal law, and the presumption "is in favor
of the municipal law of the grantor." 7 '
Foighel contends that a concession must be regarded as giving title
to a status only in municipal law, and the obligation of the State to
maintain that status "must be based on municipal law and not on
The Second Report by Garcia-Amador, Special Rapporteur on
International Responsibility, to the International Law Commission, states:
Learned opinion and practice are agreed that contracts made between the
Government of a State and an alien are governed, so far as their conclusion and
performance are concerned, by the municipal law of that State and not by (public)
international law, for a private person who enters into a contract with a foreign
government ipso facto agrees to be bound by the local law with respect to all the
legal consequences which may flow from that contract.73
It has also been asserted that contracts cannot be the subject of
international dispute since international law contains no rule respecting their
form and legal effect.74
Others, however, take the position that concession agreements in all
essential respects are analogous to treaties and, therefore, like treaties,
are governed primarily by international law.
Even though a dispute arising under a concession agreement may begin
as a dispute between a private person and a State, when the individual's
government takes up his case, it then becomes a dispute between two
States and thus enters the domain of international law:
By taking up a case of one of its subjects and by resorting to diplomatic action
or international judicial proceedings on its behalf, a State is in reality asserting
its own rights-its right to ensure, in the person of its subjects, respect for the rules
of international law.
The question, therefore, whether the present dispute originates in an injury to a
private interest, which in point of fact is the case of many international disputes, is
irrelevant from this standpoint. Once a State has taken up a case on behalf of one
soofleitsclsauimbjaenctt.s75before an international tribunal, in the eyes of the latter the State is
There is a third view to the effect that concession contracts fall neither
completely under the rules of international law nor under the rules of
private municipal law but somewhere in between, being governed in part
by both, and exclusively by neither.
Thus, O'Connel176 states that the rights of the concessionaire are
neither exclusively public nor private in character, but a mixture of
both. Since a concession is not a treaty, it cannot be confined "within
the ambit of public law."7 7 On the other hand, since one of the parties
to the contract is the State, it "cannot be exclusively [a matter] . . . of
private law." 78
McNair 79 also maintains that concession contracts are governed in
part by public, and in part by private, law; that the system of law
which governs them cannot be international law in the strict sense since
the contracts are not interstate and do not deal with interstate relations.
He suggests that the system of law most likely to be suitable for the
regulation of these contracts and the adjudication of disputes arising
under them is "the general principles of law recognized by civilized
Huang reaches a similar conclusion in a recent articles' in which he
states his belief that a rule sui generis should be adopted applicable to
concessions, based upon the same "general principles of law recognized
by civilized nations" but applying public international law. 2
Concession agreements often contain no provisions as to which law
shall govern disputes arising under them. Frequently, however, such
agreements contain provisions of a very general nature as to the law
which shall govern their operation, such as "the principle of goodwill
and good faith as well as a reasonable interpretation ... of the
Agreement, 18 3 or "goodwill and sincerity of belief and . . . the interpretation
of this Agreement in a fashion consistent with reason.' 8 4
Still others provide that they shall be governed by general principles
of law, as for example, that the agreement shall be governed by "legal
principles familiar to civilized nations"; 85 or by the law of the granting
State "and such principles and rules of international law as may be
relevant"; 6 or by such law and by the "principles of law recognized
by civilized nations. 817
Both the Anglo-Iranian Concession Agreement of 1933 and the
Consortium Agreement of 1954, which arose out of the settlement of the
Anglo-Iranian dispute, contained typical provisions illustrating the
customary intent of the parties to this type of agreement to be governed
otherwise than solely by the law of the granting State.
Thus, article 22(f) of the Concession Agreement of April 29, 1933,
between Iran and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, stipulated that all
differences between the parties were to be settled by an arbitral tribunal
provided for in the agreement and further stated:
The award shall be based on the judicial principles contained in Article 38 of the
Statutes of the Permanent Court of International Justice.88
Article 46 of the Consortium Agreement of 1954 between Iran, the
National Iranian Oil Company and certain other American, British,
Dutch and French corporations, provided as follows:
In view of the diverse nationalities of the parties of this Agreement it shall be
governed by and interpreted and applied in accordance with the principles of law
82. Id. at 307. "Municipal law determines whether a property kight has been
acquired and whether it is vested in the claimant. International law must decide whether
the defendant state is liable for the violation of a property right so acquired, whether the
claimant state is entitled to maintain the action in an international court and finally it
must determine the measure of damages." Lipstein, Conflict of Laws Before International
Tribunals, 29 Transact. Grot. Soc'y 51, 61 (1944).
83. McNair, supra note 69, at 8.
86. Schwebel, International Protection of Contractual Arrangements 6 n.6, paper to be
published in 53 Am. Soc'y Int'l L. (1959).
87. McNair, supra note 69, at 8-9.
88. Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. Case (United Kingdom v. Iran)-Pleadings 32 (I.C.J. 1952).
common to Iran and the several nations in which the other parties to this
agreement are incorporated, and in the absence of such common principles then by and in
accordance with the principles of law recognized by civilized nations in general,
including such of these principles as may have been applied by international
Both of these agreements, made almost a quarter of a century apart,
clearly indicate that the parties were looking beyond the local law of
either party for a settlement of their disputes. It seems safe to assert
that these are typical examples of the usual intent of the parties to such
agreements not to rely upon the municipal law of either party as the
sole standard by which disputes arising under these agreements are to
The fact that many, if not most, of these agreements often contain
provisions for the arbitration of disputes on an international level is
further evidence of the fact that the parties are not thinking exclusively
in terms of municipal law, and that, at least insofar as any major
alteration or modification of the mutual rights and obligations thereunder
is concerned, the parties are relying on something more universal and
impartial than the local municipal law of either party, which is subject
to unilateral change without notice.
Does a Sovereign State Have the Power to Limit by ContractIts
It may be argued, in defense of the alleged right of a sovereign to
abrogate a concession which the sovereign has previously voluntarily
granted, that a government cannot fetter nor hamper its future action
by contract, and that therefore it has the inherent power and right to
repudiate its contractual obligations at will. One may contend that
since the State is concerned with the moral and economic welfare of its
citizens, it cannot bind itself to relationships with individuals that might
in time derogate from that welfare; that by reason of the fundamental
importance of self-preservation, a State is presumed not to have
undertaken obligations toward private individuals in derogation of this vital
interest. An organ of the State which acts otherwise is considered to
have violated the fundamental law of the State, and its act is consequently
void. Furthermore, the alien who voluntarily contracts with a foreign
government is chargeable with knowledge of these things, and he
accordingly subjects himself to the local law, and takes into account the
probabilities of performance by the foreign government and the available
local remedies, if anyY°
89. Quoted in McNair, supra note 69, at 9.
90. See, e.g., Cheng, General Principles of Law as Applied by International Courts and
Tribunals 55, 67 (1953) ; O'Connell, supra note 52, at 271. Another alleged justification for
EXPROPRIATION OF PROPERTY
On the other hand, it may be argued with equal force and conviction
that there is no inherent impossibility in a government committing its
successor to abide by the terms of a concessionary contract. The advocates
of this view point out that in principle it is no different from the
unlimited treaty-making power of sovereign States in international law,91
whereby they can, and do, limit their future freedom of action, and under
which they are held to account for violation of the agreements made
therein; that such limitation in the exercise of sovereignty is an
affirmation, rather than a negation, of national sovereignty.92
A recent paper by Frank Hendryx93 delivered to the Arab Oil Congress
held in Cairo, Egypt, from April 16 to April 23, 1959, presented the
argument upholding the right of a government to abrogate a concession,
despite its promise not to do so, in perhaps its boldest and most
A few excerpts from that address will give the tenor of his argument:9 4
[T]he purpose for which governments exist, the service of their peoples, requires
that on proper occasion those governments must be released from or be able to
override, their contractual obligations. So strong is this requirement that it will override
Constitutional provisions which would apparently deny the possibility of release.
[Hendryx refers to] the practical consideration of protecting the basic interests of the
state and its citizens from its own abilities to contract contrary to those interests.
Thus it seems clear that the sovereign state may by the accepted law of civilized
nations, act through legislative or administrative decree, at its will, in ways which
directly or in effect alter or nullify part or all of one of its existing concession
agreements, so long as these actions are taken in good faith, that is, on behalf of a
substantial public interest and not merely because it repents of a former bargain.
the right of a State to abrogate a contract is based upon a sort of contractual assumption
of risk. Thus, Fenwick explains the reluctance of governments to intervene in these
contract cases on the consideration "that persons entering into such contracts do so with a
knowledge of the risks involved and with expectation of correspondingly large returns
upon their investment . . . ." Fenwick, International Law 292 (3d ed. 1948).
However, it seems almost self-evident that parties normally contract in the expectation
of performance. "If States were to be deemed to have reserved a legal right to violate
their international contracts, the foreign investor would conclude no such contracts at all."
Schwebel, supra note 86, at 10-11.
91. "[A]s States may even renounce their political existence, international tribunals are
agreed that a specific treaty provision, intended by the parties to apply even in
exceptional circumstances, must always be respected." Cheng, op. cit. supra note 90, at 67.
92. Schwarzenberger, supra note 71, at 313.
93. Hendryx, A Sovereign Nation's Legal Ability to Make and Abide by a Petroleum
Concession Contract, printed in Platt's Oilgram News Service (N.Y. ed.), April 28, 1959,
pp. 2-3. Hendryx is described as "Legal Advisor to Saudi-Arabian Directorate General of
Petroleum and Mineral Affairs."
94. Id. at 3.
[A]n oil producing nation by the law of civilized nations may clearly, in a proper
case, modify or eliminate provisions of an existing petroleum concession which have
become substantially contrary to the best interests of its citizens. Financial interest
must certainly be included in the classification of matters of vital interest to a
The above thesis, unqualified as it may appear to be, nevertheless
leaves certain fundamental questions unanswered.
For example, what are the "basic interests of the state" contrary to
which a State should be protected from its own ability to contract?
Is it contrary to those "basic interests" for a State to enter into a
contract for the exploitation of its hitherto undeveloped natural resources
whereby large investments of foreign capital, skilled labor, and technical
knowledge are introduced into an industrially backward State?
And, if it is, how does one distinguish the case of a government
cancelling such a concession contract "in good faith," which Hendryx says
is permissible, from the case of such cancellation by a State "merely
because it repents of a former bargain"?
Furthermore, Hendryx states that the provisions of an existing
petroleum concession can be modified or eliminated "in a proper case" when it
has become "substantially contrary to the best interests of its citizens,"
which include "financial interests." If a government "repents of a former
bargain" which has become "contrary to the best [financial] interests
of its citizens," which of Hendryx's principles would apply-the
principle that would allow the concession to be cancelled because it has
become financially advantageous to the State to do so, or the opposing
principle that would forbid it on the ground that the government is
merely repenting of a former bargain?
Although Hendryx asserts that the legal systems of the United States,
England and France "establish beyond question the general legal rules" 95
set forth in his paper, the authorities cited by him are not persuasive.
On the contrary, they fail completely to support his assertion.
In fact, of the six United States Supreme Court cases96 cited by
96. Hendryx cites the three following decisions of the United States Supreme Court in
support of the proposition that "the service of their peoples .. .requires that on proper
occasion ...governments must be released from or be able to override, their contractual
obligations." Hendryx, supra note 93, at 3.
B. Worthen Co. v. Thomas, 292 U.S. 426 (1934), held that an Arkansas statute
exempting certain insurance proceeds from claims of creditors violated the constitutional
provision against impairment of the obligation of contracts. The case is thus not only
inapplicable since it concerns what a state of the United States can do under a specific
constitutional provision, but, even if it were applicable, it would be authority against
Hendryx's position rather than supporting it.
Pierce v. New Hampshire, 46 U.S. (5 How.) 504 (1847), held that a New Hampshire
statute making it a crime to sell liquor without a license did not violate the commerce
Hendryx, in only two 97 was anything like a contract between a state
clause of the Constitution. Although the six opinions in the case base their decision on
various grounds-including police power-the case contains no discussion of, much less
authority for, the right of a sovereign to violate a contract.
Marcus Brown Holding Co. v. Feldman, 256 U.S. 170 (1921), held that a New York
statute suspending the right to recover possession of real property occupied for dwelling
purposes was a valid exercise of the police power and was not a violation of the contract
clause or the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution. No contractual obligation of
a sovereign--either State or national-was involved.
Hendryx cites two additional cases in which, he states, the Supreme Court "has
indicated that states exist for the purposes of their subjects and hence must remain free
to fulfill those purposes." Hendryx, supra note 93, at 3.
Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U.S. 623 (1887), held that the Kansas prohibition statutes
did not violate the fourteenth amendment. They were held to be a proper exercise of the
police power of the state in the interests of protecting public health, safety and
morals. The Court stated that they did "not involve the power of eminent domain, in
the exercise of which property may not be taken for public use without compensation,"
and that a prohibition of the use of the property for purposes injurious to the health,
morals or safety of the community could not "in any just sense, be deemed a taking
or an appropriation of property for the public benefit." 123 U.S. at 668-69.
Douglas v. Kentucky, 168 U.S. 488 (1897), held that a Kentucky statute revoking lottery
privileges was not a violation of the contract clause of the Constitution on the ground
that a lottery grant was not a contract within the meaning of the Constitution, but
merely a gratuity or license which could be revoked at any time under the police
power of the state to protect public morals. The Court said: "No legislature can bargain
away the public health or the public morals." 168 U.S. at 497.
Both of these cases were decided under the police power of the state under which the
right to protect the health, safety and morals of its citizens is always reserved.
Hendryx also quotes the statement, "A governmental power of self-protection cannot be
contracted away," from New York & N.E. Ry. v. Bristol, 151 U.S. 556, 567 (1894). Hendryx,
supra at 3. This case held that a Connecticut statute regulating grade crossings was not a
violation of the Constitution and was decided both on the ground of police power
and on the further ground that in the contract itself provisions were contained providing
for its alteration or repeal. Id. at 568. The Court said that: "[Ilnhibitions of the
Constitution of the United States upon the impairment of the obligation of contracts, or the
deprivation of property without due process or of the equal protection of the laws, by
the States, are not violated by the legitimate exercise of legislative power in securing the
public safety, health, and morals. The governmental power of self-protection cannot be
contracted away, nor can the exercise of rights granted, nor the use of property, be
withdrawn from the implied liability to governmental regulation in particulars essential
to the preservation of the community from injury. . . . And also that 'a power reserved
to the legislature to alter, amend or repeal a charter authorizes it to make any alteration
or amendment of a charter granted subject to it, which will not defeat or substantially
impair the object of the grant, or any rights vested under it, and which the legislature
may deem necessary to secure either that object or any public right.' . . .
"The charter of this company was subject to the legislative power over it of
amendment, alteration or repeal, specifically and under general law." 151 U.S. at 567-68.
97. Douglas v. Kentucky, supra note 96; New York & New England Ry. Co. v.
Bristol, supra note 96.
and a private individual involved. And both of these cases were decided
on the basis of police power. 8
None of Hendryx's authorities99 would seem to offer any support for
his blanket assertion that the government's being released from its
contractual obligations "will override Constitutional provisions."'0 ° The
basic proposition established by the cases cited by Hendryx is that a
government under its police power always has the power to protect
the health, safety and morals of its citizens, a proposition which can
scarcely be denied. No conclusion, however, can be drawn from these
authorities that, as Hendryx implies, whenever it becomes financially
profitable to do so, a government can repudiate contracts, validly entered
into, on some theory analogous to the theory of "might makes right."
For some reason not apparent, Hendryx makes no reference to the
one case decided by the United States Supreme Court which seems most
clearly in point on the issue presented by his paper. This is the
wellknown case of Perry v. United States'°' which held that a government
can bind itself by contract. In the course of its opinion holding invalid,
so far as it applied to obligations of the United States, the Joint
Resolution of June 5, 1933, abrogating the "gold clause," the Court, through
Chief Justice Hughes, said:"'
When the United States, with constitutional authority, makes contracts, it has rights
and incurs responsibilities similar to those of individuals who are parties to such
The argument in favor of the Joint Resolution . . . is in substance that the
Government cannot by contract restrict the exercise of a sovereign power. But
the right to make binding obligations is a competence attaching to sovereignty.
98. In addition, a further ground of decision in the Bristol case was that the contract
provided for its own modification or annulment. See 151 U.S. at 568.
99. It is only fair to include Hendryx's statement that his paper was "not intended
as a legal brief." Hendryx, supra note 93, at 3. Nevertheless, he does assert that the
legal systems of England, France and the United States "have ample expressions in their
decisions which establish beyond question the general legal rules here after expressed."
Id. at 2. He declares that it is "apparent beyond reasonable contradiction that founding
the final conclusion of each of the above legal jurisdictions is the practical consideration
of protecting the basic interests of the state and its citizens from its own abilities to
contract contrary to those interests." Id. at 3. He refers to the "practical necessity of
balancing conflicting interests, here the basic responsibilities of the sovereign or State
and the validity-even sanctity of existing contractual obligations" and states that "the
lesser interest must, as always, give way to the greater, and the courts of the
United States, England and France are unanimous in agreeing which are legally the greater
and which the lesser interests." Ibid. The clear, although we submit unwarranted,
implication seems to be that the principles advanced by Hendryx are so well-settled
that no legal brief is needed.
100. See p. 199.
101. 294 U.S. 330 (1935).
102. Id. at 352-53.
The Court continued in a footnote as follows:
This is recognized in the field of international engagements. Although there may be
no judicial procedure by which such contracts may be enforced in the absence of
the consent of the sovereign to be sued, the engagement validly made by a sovereign
state is not without legal force, as readily appears if the jurisdiction to entertain a
an internatiownailthtrirbeuspneacl.t' 0t3o the performance of the engagement is conferred upon
Nor is the English authority cited by Hendryx on this question any
more impressive. He cites only Rederiaktiebolaget Amphitrite v. The
King'014 as authority for the proposition that a government cannot by
contract fetter its future executive action.
However, twenty-seven years later, the same court in Robertson v.
Minister of Pensions0' 5 had this to say concerning that decision:
Nor can the Crown escape by praying in aid the doctrine of executive necessity, i.e.,
the doctrine that the Crown cannot bind itself so as to fetter its future executive
action. That doctrine was propounded by ROWLAT, J., in Rederiaktiebolaget
Amphitrite v. R. (
), but it was unnecessary for the decision because the statement
there was not a promise which was intended to be binding but only an expression of
intention.' 0 6
The Court then concluded as follows:
In my opinion, the defence of executive necessity is of limited scope. It only avails
tohfethCerocwonntwrahcet.re0 7there is an implied term to that effect, or that is the true meaning
With respect to French law, Hendryx cites neither any cases nor
any provisions of its Civil Code. He simply asserts that in France a
contract between a State and an individual falls within the classification of
"administrative contracts," and that the rules applied to these cases are
based on the fundamental principles of the predominance of the public
interest involved. 0 8 He further states that where the public interest
intervenes, the interest of the contractor is accorded secondary
However, in a recent paper presented before the American Society of
International Law, it was stated that:
French law, often seized upon to illustrate the State's breadth of legal power,
distinguishes between concessions where there are public users, between "administrative
103. Id. at 353, n.3.
104.  3 K.B. 500.
105.  2 All E.R. 767.
106. Id. at 770.
108. Hendryx, supra note 93, at 3.
contracts," where the State reserves great power, and other State contracts, like
mining concessions, which are not subject to the State's unilateral revision. 10
As a final comment on Hendryx's authorities, one might point out that
although he concedes that "international law" should govern the problem,
none of the cases cited by him have any international aspects
whatsoever. They do not concern agreements between States and foreign
nationals, nor do the courts in any of the cases even purport to be applying
international law principles in a municipal court.
In a recent arbitral award which has been called "perhaps the most
important arbitral award interpretive of international concessions ever
rendered,"' it was held:
By reason of its very sovereignty within its territorial domain, the State possesses the
legal power to grant rights which it forbids itself to withdraw before the end of the
Concession. .. . Nothing can prevent a State, in the exercise of its sovereignty, from
binding itself irrevocably by the provisions of a concession and from granting to
the concessionaire irretractable rights. 112
A concession agreement is entered into by a nation, which-for reasons
of lack of capital, skilled labor, technical knowledge, or access to markets
-is unable to develop its natural resources in a profitable manner, with
a foreign corporation or individual able to supply those needs. Both
parties voluntarily agree to the terms of the contract and both parties
naturally hope that it will be profitable. The fact that the expectations
of the State may not be fully realized in obtaining as large a profit or
benefit as anticipated is no justification for the repudiation of its
obligations freely undertaken. The expectations of the concessionaire also may
be, and often are, unrealized. Large investments of time and capital may
have to be made before success is achieved, and of course there is no
guarantee that the venture will ever be successful or profitable. But the
concessionaire is nevertheless bound by the terms of the contract, and
the State should be equally bound.
There is no legal or moral justification for a State, after solemnly
committing itself to a contract with a foreign national, seeking to avoid
its responsibilities thereunder on some outworn theory that sovereignty
embraces privileges only, without correlative obligations. Nothing
inherent in sovereignty prevents the performance of contracts and the
granting of irrevocable rights.
110. Schwebel, supra note 86, at 16. (Emphasis added.)
111. Id. at 17.
112. Id. at 17-18. The quotation is cited in Schwebel's paper as being taken from
page 61 of the Arbitration between Saudi Arabia and the Arabian American Oil Company,
Award of August 23, 1958 (unpublished). The writer cites the arbitration award as
authority for the statement that: "In the law of Switzerland and Germany, and in Moslem
law, a concessionaire's rights apparently are irrevocable." (Footnotes omitted.) Id. at 17.
InternationalResponsibility of a Sovereign for Abrogation of a Concession
Dunn"x3 wrote in 1932 that the question of international responsibility
for losses arising out of contractual relations between private individuals
and foreign governments presented a diversity of views among legal
authorities and a confusion of precedents "as great if not greater than any
subject previously considered"" 4 and that it was quite possible "to make
out a good logical case both for and against responsibility, and to support
each of them by an imposing array of precedents."" 5 One well-known
Claims Commission,"" in the same vein, held that it was impossible to
say whether or not there was a rule of international law entailing
responsibility for breaches of contract.
There are some who argue that nationalization in defiance of a
contractual obligation is not contrary to international law, since the same
rules that apply to the nationalization of property should apply to
contracts. Thus, Foighel, in his recent study, reasons that:
The fact that nationalization is not a breach of international law cannot be
altered by the fact that nationalization destroys contract rights, for example, a
concession which the nationalizing state has granted to a foreign company ....
There is no rule in international law that gives a greater degree of protection to
rights secured by contract than to other rights of property.117
And O'Connell, referring to concessions, declares that "abrogation is
legitimate because the State is concerned with the moral and economic
welfare of its citizens, and it cannot bind itself to relationships with
individuals that might in time derogate from that welfare."'
The arguments against the right of a State to abrogate a concession
contract have been put on several grounds. One such argument is based
on the principle of acquired or vested rights. Thus, a concession which
has duly come into force has been called a "vested private right"'" 9 and
considered to be under the protection of international law against
unlawful seizure on the part of the grantor. O'Connell states that there is
little doubt that the respect for acquired rights is a principle
well-established in international law;' 20 that it is one of the few principles firmly
established in the law of State succession, and the one which admits of
least dispute.'2 1
However, with reference to this principle of acquired rights, the
Secretary General of the United Nations in his memorandum submitted to the
International Law Commission stated that there was "no adequate
measure of certainty with regard to its application to the various categories
of private rights such as those grounded in . concessionary
contracts ... ."122
McNair. 2 maintains that concessions should be governed by the
"general principles of law recognized by civilized nations,' 2 4 and that one of
these is the principle of respect for vested (or acquired) rights, citing
Certain German Interests in Polish Upper Silesia25 as support for this
Jenks126 refers to the principle of respect for acquired rights as one of
the "three broad principles around which much of the developing law of
international economic relationships appears to revolve."'127 He states that
this principle has a long history in international law and that the
protection of acquired rights "is an essential function of every legal system."128
Closely related to the principle of acquired rights is the principle of
unjust enrichment, which is characterized as basic in all European legal
systems, and hence in international law, and as underlying the doctrine of
acquired rights. 9
however, that a contract cannot be abrogated, but that such abrogation cannot destroy
the interest of the foreign investor in the works constructed by him.
121. Id. at 104.
122. U.N. Doc. No. A/CN.4/1 Rev. 1, at 28 (1949).
123. McNair, The General Principles of Law Recognized by Civilized Nations, 33 Brit.
Yb. Int'l L. 1 (1957).
124. Id. at 19.
125. P.C.I.J., ser. A, No. 7 at 22, 24 (1926).
126. Jenks, The Common Law of Mankind (1958).
127. Id. at 152.
128. Id. at 153.
129. O'Connell, supra note 118, at 270-71; O'Connell, op. cit. supra note 120, at 103.
However, Friedman asserts that the concept of acquired rights is obscure, ambiguous and
undefinable; that it finds no support in international judicial decisions; that it cannot,
therefore, be raised to the dignity of a principle of international law; that acquired rights
are nothing more than those proprietary rights which have come into being by virtue
of municipal law and as such are completely subject to its provisions; that having
created them, municipal law may modify or annul them at will. Friedman, Expropriation
in International Law 126 (1953). Meron, on the contrary, states that: "It is sometimes
said that contracts affecting attributes of national sovereignty such as .. . granting
concessions of national importance .. .do not create vested rights, and that there is no
responsibility for their repudiation by the contracting State. . . . It is submitted that practice of
international arbitration does not support the proposition that there is no responsibility
for the repudiation of contracts involving such subjects. . . . Whatever the position of
contracts affecting the national sovereignty may have been under the domestic law, States
Other principles which have been advanced in support of the
international responsibility of a State for the abrogation of a concession include:
the principle of good faith; 13 the principle of the responsibility of
States;'' the principle of consultation with others before affecting their
rights; 132 the principle of broad liability for legally recognized harm to
others; 33 the principle of respect for private property and the sanctity
of contracts. 3 4
The most cogent and persuasive argument for holding sovereigns
internationally responsible for nationalization in breach of a contract, or
otherwise abrogating a concession agreement, is that based on the
proposition of pacta sunt servanda. In accordance with this principle, it is
universally agreed that under international law States are bound to
perform their treaties with other States and to carry out in good faith the
obligations assumed thereunder. 35
The principle of pacta sunt servanda is supported both by logic and
by morals. There is no logical or ethical principle why States, any less
than individuals, should not be bound by their agreements.
There is strong support for the proposition that this principle of
international law also applies to contracts between States and foreign
nationals. Sir John Fischer Williams, it will be recalled, regarded treaty
obligations and contract obligations as being in the same category, and
excluded from his rule of no compensation cases where a "contractual or
quasi-contractual obligation" bound a State in its relations to foreign
owners of property, or special terms were imposed by a concession or
have been held responsible for their repudiation under international law.. .." Meron,
Repudiation of Ultra Vires State Contracts and the International Responsibility of States, 6
Int'l Comp. L.Q. 273, 288 (1957).
130. O'Connell, op. cit. supra note 120, at 103.
131. Cheng, op. cit. supra note 90, at 163.
132. Jenks, op. cit. supra note 126, at 152.
134. Wadmond, The Sanctity of Contracts between a Sovereign and a Foreign National,
Section of Mineral and Natural Resources Law, 1957 A.B.A. Proceedings 177.
135. This principle would also undoubtedly apply to an agreement of a State with
another State to carry out the terms of a particular contract between itself and a private
individual or company of the latter: "[T]here is in principle nothing to prevent a position
arising in which one government may be bound towards another government on the
international plane to observe the terms of a contract or agreement entered into by it
with a private person or entity, in particular a national, or national company, of the
latter government. There can, for instance, be no doubt that a direct promise or
undertaking given by one government to another to observe or carry out the terms of such
a contract would constitute an international obligation, the detailed terms of which
would be those of the contract." Fitzmaurice, The Law and Procedure of the
International Court of Justice 1951-1954: Treaty Interpretations and Other Treaty Points, 33
Brit. Yb Int'l L. 203, 241 (1957).
136. See note 11 supra and accompanying text.
The problem was squarely presented to the International Court of
Justice as a result of the Anglo-Iranian oil expropriation but remained
unanswered because the court, in a split decision, found that it did not
have jurisdiction over the dispute. 13 7
In recent years, this proposition has received increasing support:
The right of a state to nationalize property under its jurisdiction is unquestioned,
regardless of whether the owners be citizens or aliens. By treaty, concession or other
agreement a state may, however, surrender or limit its right to nationalize. 138
The right of a state to nationalize any private property situated within its territorial
jurisdiction is not generally disputed. This is an essential attribute of sovereignty.
However, states may limit this right by entering into a treaty or international
agreement, or, as will be submitted below, into a mere contract with an alien.
Nationalizaitinotenrnwathiiocnhalislacwo.n1t3r9ary to such undertakings is inherently unlawful and contrary to
In the case of Losinger & Co., 4 ' Switzerland contended that: "The
principle pacta sunt servanda . . . applies not only to contracts directly
concluded between States, but also to those between a State and
foreigners ....""' The Committee on the Study of Nationalization of the
American Branch of the International Law Association has characterized
the Swiss view as "unassailable," on the ground that "as a matetr [sic]
of principle, there is no difference whatsoever in this respect between
treaties and contracts,"' 4 2 while at the same time admitting that "no
conclusive international judgment on the question exists."'14 3 They
assert as a basic principle that States must perform their contracts
with aliens (just as they must perform their treaties) in good faith, and
that nationalization is not a valid excuse for breach of such contractual
In principle, it appears that the proposition that contracts between a
State and a foreign national should be regarded in the same manner as
treaties between two States, and hence governed by international law, is
both logical and desirable. In both cases, promises with an international
scope, or of an international flavor, are made; in both cases, reliance is
placed on those promises; in both cases, the obligation to perform those
promises should be the same.
Agreements between individuals must be performed under the rules of
municipal law. Agreements between States must be performed under the
rules of international law. Agreements between States and individuals
of other States should also be performed under the only rules that can
insure predictability of result-and those are the rules of international
A Committee of the International Bar Association at its 1958 meeting
proposed the following resolution:
International law recognizes that the principle pacta sunt servanda applies to the
specific engagements of States towards other States or the Nationals of other States
and that in consequence a taking of private property in violation of a specific state
contract is contrary to international law.14
The resolution was recorded as one of the principles forming "an un-'
doubted part of the rule of international law as at present accepted by
civilised countries."' 45
And this principle applies irrespective of what the agreement provides
as to what law is to govern.
If the Anglo-Iranian case had not been dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, but had
been decided on the merits, it is difficult to see how this decision would not have been
a source of future international law.
143. 13 Record at 373.
144. Proposed Resolution of the Open Committee Meeting on Protection of
Investments Abroad in Time of Peace, International Bar Association, Seventh Conference 485
145. Ibid. "It would be inequitable that a government should at one and the same
time seek the economic benefits which foreign trade and investment carry with them,
and at the same time call for the adoption of a rule placing such foreign activities at the
mercy of the very government which seeks this economic assistance." Harvard
Preliminary Draft at 67. "To provide that obligations under concessions and contracts may be
terminated against the payment of compensation is to embrace the theory, now
discredited, that a promisor has an option of performing his contract or paying the stipulated
price for non-performance in the form of damages. Such a view suggests that compliance
with contracts, including concessions, is a matter of expediency, and that no moral
opprobrium attaches to the violation of the promisor's pledged word." Id. at 76.
In the case where the agreement specifically provides that international
law, or the general principles of law of civilized nations, which is one
of the sources of international law,14 is to govern, then abrogation would
clearly be a violation of such basic principles as, for example, the
principles of acquired rights, unjust enrichment, pacta sunt servanda, and
the simple but fundamental principles of respect for private property
and the sanctity of contracts.
Even if the agreement provides that the law of a particular State,
either alone or in conjunction with more universal principles, is to
govern, or contains no provision as to the governing law, the result would
be no different. The unilateral and unjustified abrogation of such an
agreement would be a violation of international law irrespective of the
provisions of the contract, for it would deprive the concessionaire of that
international standard of justice to which all aliens are entitled. There
would seem to be no clearer case of a violation of this international
standard and a "denial of justice" in the broadest and most basic sense,
from which all States are entitled under international law to protect their
subjects, 47 than for a State to enter into a solemn contract with a foreign
national and then subsequently enact legislation which, while
complying with all the internal procedural requirements of the State itself,
arbitrarily abrogates the contract and permits the government unilaterally to
repudiate its obligations. 4 8
146. Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice provides in part
that the Court, whose function is to decide in accordance with international law such
disputes as are submitted to it, shall apply:
"1. international conventions, whether general or particular, establishing rules
expressly recognized by the contesting states;
"2. international custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law;
"3. the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations;
"4. subject to the provisions of Article 59, judicial decisions and the teachings of the
most highly qualified publicists of the various nations, as subsidiary means for the
determination of rules of law."
147. Even in Calvo Clause cases, where the foreign contractor agrees that he will
not appeal to his own government for diplomatic protection, or submit a claim to an
international tribunal, it is generally conceded that he is not bound by the clause in cases
where he has suffered a denial of justice at the hands of the foreign government. And
his own government is never barred from presenting a claim based on a violation of
international law. Freeman, The International Responsibility of States for the Denial of
Justice 265 (1938). See also North Am. Dredging Co. of Texas (United States v. Mexico),
[1926-1927] Opinions of Comm'rs Under the Convention Concluded Sept. 8, 1923,
Between the United States and Mexico 33 (1927).
148. It has been argued that expropriation without compensation could be lawfully
accomplished by means of taxation, and that concession contracts could be substantially
modified or even nullified by this method without incurring international responsibility.
See Williams, International Law and the Property of Aliens, 9 Brit. Yb. Int'l L. 1, 28
(1928). Generally speaking, the power of governments to tax aliens as well as citizens, if
No State can avoid the obligations of international law by enacting
municipal laws inconsistent therewith. As previously noted,14 9 such action
not unduly discriminatory, is universally conceded. However, if the tax is imposed at such
a rate as to be confiscatory, then it should be regarded as any other form of confiscation,
and so treated.
The Harvard Preliminary Draft supports this view:
"An uncompensated taking of property of an alien or a deprivation of the use or
enjoyment of property of an alien which results from the execution of the tax laws . . . or
from the exercise of the police power of the State . . . shall not be considered wrongful,
"(e) it is not an abuse of the powers specified in this paragraph for the purpose of
depriving an alien of his property." Harvard Preliminary Draft art. 10, at 4.
The explanatory note to subparagraph 4(e) reads as follows:
"Finally, subparagraph 4(e) requires that the judicial, fiscal, and police powers of the
State not be used to cloak an uncompensated seizure of an alien's property. This
paragraph would preclude taxes raised to confiscatory levels from being used as means of
securing the property of an alien without paying him for it. . . ." Harvard Preliminary
Draft 64-65, 71.
Furthermore, if there is an agreement contained in the concession contract limiting the
government's authority to levy taxes on the concessionaire, then this agreement should
be as binding on the sovereign as any other.
The power of a state legislature to make a valid contract exempting a corporation or
its property from taxation has been frequently upheld by the United States Supreme
"It is unnecessary at this time to discuss the question of power on the part of a State
legislature to make a contract exempting certain property from taxation. Such a power
has been frequently asserted and sustained by the decisions of this court." East Saginaw
v. Salt Mfg. Co., 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 373, 376 (1872).
"It has nevertheless been held by this court, not, however, without occasional earnest
dissent from a minority, that the power of taxation over particular parcels of property,
or over property of particular persons or corporations, may be surrendered by one legislative
body, so as to bind its successors and the State." Tomlinson v. Jessup, 82 U.S. (15 Wall.)
454, 458 (1873).
"It has been held many times in this court that a State may make a valid contract
that a corporation or its property within its territory shall be exempt from taxation, or
shall be subject to a limited and specified taxation." Erie Ry. Co. v. Pennsylvania, 88
5 U.S. (21 Wall.) 492, 498 (1875).
This principle was apparently not violated in the recent tax increase in Venezuela,
since there was no contract involved limiting the government's authority to raise taxes,
and it was conceded that Venezuela was within her rghts.
"As no contract limiting the government's authority to raise taxes existed, Venezuela
was within her rights to do this, although from a business standpoint, this action will
undoubtedly reduce the attractiveness of that country as a place for foreign investment.
As Middle East concessions have firm contractual agreements limiting the government's
take to 505, the Venezuela situation has no parallel in the Middle East. There, an increase
in taxes beyond that point would amount to an abrogation of the concession contract."
Address by R. G. Follis, Annual Meeting of Standard Oil Company of California, May 7,
1959, in a Report to Stockholders, 1st Quarter of 1959.
149. See p. 188.
in effect denies the very existence of international law. And one of the
obligations laid down by international law is the obligation to abide by
agreements solemnly entered into, whether these agreements are with
other States and are embodied in treaties, or are with the citizens of
other States and are embodied in concession agreements voluntarily made.
In some respects there is even less justification for violating a concession
agreement than for violating a treaty. Treaties, although universally
recognized as binding, are not always completely voluntary. However,
concession agreements customarily are actively sought and negotiated in
the ordinary course of business by the nations concerned, for the purpose
of developing their natural resources through the skill and capital of the
The question of compensation in the event of abrogation of a
concession has been a source of some discussion. In the first place, there are
two distinct claims involved, one arising from the taking of the physical
properties installed by the concessionaire, and the other from the
wrongful breach of the concession contract itself. Few would argue with the
proposition that insofar as physical properties are concerned-refineries,
factories, wharves and the like-prompt, adequate and effective
compensation should be paid, as in the case of any other expropriated
But what about the loss arising from the cancellation of the contract
rights of the concessionaire? On any equitable basis such damages for
violation of the concession contract would include the loss of profits
caused by the breach (lucrum cessans), as well as other measurable
losses to which the concessionaire had been put by the failure of the
State to perform (damnum emergens). However, the difficulty of
computing damages in the case of the abrogation of a long term concession
is a strong argument for the principle of restitution or specific
For example, in the case of Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, what
valuation could be put upon exploitation rights to areas where it was unknown
whether or not deposits of oil existed, and if they did, in what quantity.
Furthermore, as Ford has pointed out:
[H]ow could damages be estimated for the disruption which the expulsion of AIOC
caused to the company's world-wide marketing system? Or how could damages be
estimated for the dollar drain on sterling area reserves caused by AIOC purchases
from American companies after shipments from Iran were stopped, which purchases
were necessary to fulfill AIOC's long-term marketing contracts? 50
150. Ford, The Anglo-Iranian Dispute of 1951-1952, at 299 n.5 (1954). The Harvard
Preliminary Draft recommends a "conservative" computation of damages in the case
of the cancellation of a concession with many years to run, on the ground that "it could
not be predicted with any certainty that profits would remain at the same level" for
the remaining years of the concession. Harvard Preliminary Draft at 144.
Although by no means unanimous, there appeais to be mounting
support among the authorities for restitution, or specific performance, where
the taking is unlawful, as in an unjustified abrogation of a concession
The Committee on the Study of Nationalization of the American
Branch of the International Law Association adopts the reasoning of the
Permanent Court of International Justice in the Chorzow Factory case,152
in advocating that where an illegal taking is involved, restitution should
be made, if possible. While the Chorzow case dealt with a taking in
violation of a treaty, it is strong support for the principle that a taking
or abrogation in violation of a concession contract should be treated in
the same manner and that the remedy for such illegal abrogation should
be "in the nature of specific performance." 5 3
Wortley supports the view that occasionally "specific restitution of
property may be claimed . . . in those cases where adequate
compensation is not, or cannot be, provided.. . ."I" He states that the opposing
On the other hand, and by the same reasoning, it cannot be predicted that profits
will not increase during the remaining years. Moreover, in view of the fact that the
State has committed the wrongful act, there seems no reason why the innocent party
should have to suffer by accepting a "conservative" computation of its damages. Such
computation would tend to encourage rather than discourage wrongful conduct, since
any doubt as to the damages caused by such conduct would, under this proposal, be
resolved in favor of the party at fault.
151. "[I]t has been suggested that a territorial sovereign may find its very right to
expropriate conditioned upon its power to pay and that if it be sought to exercise that
right when evidence of the possession of such power and the disposition to use it are
not evident, there is reason to demand that there be restored to the owners what may have
been taken from them." Hyde, Compensation for Expropriations, 33 Am. J. Int'l Law 108,
112 (1939). Schwarzenberger seems to support restitution in the case where the granting
state has promised the grantee immunity from future legislation, and then violates that
promise. See Schwarzenberger, supra note 119, at 313-15.
Cheng, although he does not agree that taking in violation of a contract is unlawful,
agrees in principle with the proposition that if the taking is unlawful, the state may be
called upon to return the property. Cheng, General Principles of Law as Applied by
International Courts and Tribunals 50 (1953)4
152. Case Concerning the Factory at Chorzow (Claim for Indemnity, Merits), P.C.IJ.,
ser. A, No. 17 (1928).
153. 13 Record at 377. However, Friedman, op. cit. supra note 129, at 214, argues
that specific restitution would constitute an "intolerable interference in the internal
sovereignty of States." On the other hand, illegal confiscation in violation of a contract
could as well be described as an intolerable interference with private property' and the
sanctity of contracts.
154. Wortley, op. cit. supra note 143, at 23.
155. Id. at 17.
If an aim of international law is to discourage the unlawful violation
of agreements, then a requirement of restitution or specific performance
would be the most effective means of attaining that objective. If contract
performance is no longer possible, then all measurable damages should
Unless restricted by treaty or other agreement, a State has the right
under international law to expropriate property of foreign nationals
within its territorial jurisdiction, but only if the expropriation is made
for reasons of public utility, and only upon the payment of prompt,
adequate and effective compensation. The requirement of compensation
is equally applicable in cases of both general and individual
expropriation. Municipal law affords no excuse for nonpayment of compensation,
since the expropriation of the private property of aliens involves the
international responsibility of the State, and its international
responsibility is governed by international law. Economic difficulties of the
expropriating State likewise do not justify the taking of property without
payment, since poverty is no excuse for unlawful conduct, whether by
individuals or by States. The validity of the expropriation depends upon
the ability and willingness of the expropriating State to pay for what it
has taken. Any action taken in defiance of these principles should not
be accorded recognition by other States.
In the area of concession agreements, States are bound to observe these
agreements with citizens of other States just as they are bound to observe
their treaties with other States. The principle of pacta sunt servanda
should apply. Principles of acquired rights and the sanctity of contracts,
as well as common justice, support this conclusion. If such an
agreement is nevertheless abrogated, the legality of the action should not be
recognized by other States. Restitution of the contract rights and any
property unlawfully taken should be required or, if this is not possible,
the payment of all measurable damages.
Any necessary reformation of the contract due to unforeseen
circumstances should be effected only as it is in the case of other negotiated
contracts-by the voluntary and uncoerced consent of both parties. It is one
thing to revise the terms of a concession by mutual consent when
unanticipated conditions arise; it is quite another for a government, once
it has granted a concession of its own free will, to have the power and
right to repudiate it at will and arbitrarily whenever it appears financially
or otherwise advantageous for it to do so. The power it may have; the
right should not be conceded. The "public seizure of private rights . . .
in essence does not differ from . . . private seizure of private rights that
the legal systems of all civilized societies prohibit."'156
1. 6 Brit. Yb. Int'l L. 159 ( 1925 ). Fachiri, 1887 - 1939 , was a barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple and a Member of the Editorial Committee of the British Yearbook of International Law .
2. Id. at 160.
3. Westlake , Collected Papers on Public International Law 1-2 , 9 - 10 , 103 , 104 - 10 ( 1914 ); Hall, International Law § 87 (7th ed. 1917 ); 1 Oppenheim, International Law § 319 (3rd ed. 1920 ) ; Calvo, 15 Droit International §§ 1276 , 1278 ( 1870 -72) ; Bonfils, Droit International Public § 262 (5th ed. 1908 ). For authority as to the attitude of United States, Fachiri referred to 6 Moore, A Digest of International Law 247- 324 ( 1906 ).
4. Sicilian Sulphur Monopoly (Great Britain v . Sicily , 1831 - 32 ); Jonas King (United States v . Greece , 1853 ) ; Delagoa Bay Ry. (United States and Great Britain v . Portugal , 1889 - 91 ); Italian Life Ins. Monopoly (Great Britain v . Italy , 1911 - 12 ); Portuguese Religious Properties (Great Britain , France, Spain v. Portugal , 1913 ).
5. 6 Brit. Yb. Int'l L., supra note 1 , at 169-71.
6. 9 Brit. Yb. Int'l L. 1 ( 1928 ). Williams, 1870 -1947, was Assistant Legal Advisor for the British Home Office, 1918 - 20 , British Member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, and a Member of the Institute on International Law .
Thus, the Mexican Government, in the diplomatic correspondence referred to above, maintained in a note of August 3 , 1938 , to the American Government that:
49. [1956 Part 2] Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation with The Netherlands, 8 U .S.T. & O.I.A. 2043 , 2051 ; [1956 Part 2] Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation with The Republic of Korea, 8 U .S.T. & O.I.A . 2217 , 2221 .
50. Herz , Expropriation of Foreign Property, 35 Am. J. Int'l L . 243 , 253 ( 1941 ).
51. Carlston , Concession Agreements and Nationalization , 52 Am. J. Int'l L . 200 , 275 ( 1958 ).
52. O 'Connell , A Critique of the Iranian Oil Litigation, 4 Int'l & Comp . L.Q. 267 , 277 ( 1955 ).
53. Friedman , op. cit. supra note 23 , at 204.
54. Foighel , op. cit. supra note 45 , at 40-41.
55. Ibid .
56. See , e.g., Brander, Legal Aspects of Foreign Investments , 18 Fed. B.J. 298 , 305 ( 1958 ). See also Secretary of State Hull's note of July 21 , 1938 : "The taking of property without compensation is not expropriation . It is confiscation. It is no less confiscation because there may be an expressed intent to pay at some time in the future." 5 Foreign Rel . at 676.
57. Quoted in 3 Hackworth, Digest of International Law 662 ( 1942 ).
58. 1 Hyde, International Law 711- 12 ( 1945 ).
59. Hyde , Compensation for Expropriation, 33 Am. J. Int'l L . 108 , 112 ( 1939 ).
60. Committee on the Study of Nationalization of the American Branch of the International Law Association, Nationalization of the Property of Aliens, 13 Record of N.Y. C.B.A . 367 , 369 ( 1958 ) [hereinafter referred to as 13 Record] .
61. Id . at 371.
69. McNair , The General Principles of Law Recognized by Civilized Nations , 33 Brit. Yb. Int'l L. 1 ( 1957 ).
70. "Any contract which is not a contract between States in their capacity as subjects of international law is based on the municipal law of some country." Serbian Loans , P.C.I.J ., ser. A, Nos . 20 /21, at 41 ( 1929 ). "Every contract which is not an international agreement-i.e., a treaty between States-is subject (as matters now stand) to municipal law . . . . " Report of the League of Nations Commission for Study of International Loan Contracts , HA 10 , at 21 ( 1939 ).
71. Schwarzenberger , The Protection of British Property Abroad, 5 Current Legal Problems 295 , 312 ( 1952 ).
72. Foighel , op. cit. supra note 45 , at 74.
73. Garcia-Amador , supra note 22 , at 36.
74. Friedman , Expropriation in International Law 156 ( 1953 ).
75. The Mavrommatis Palestine Concessions, P.C.I.J. ser. A , No. 2, at 12 ( 1924 ).
76. O 'Connell , supra note 52, at 270.
77. Ibid .
78. Ibid .
79. McNair , supra note 69, at 19.
80. Ibid .
81. Huang , Some International and Legal Aspects of the Suez Canal Question , 51 Am. J. Int'l L . 277 ( 1957 ).
113. Dunn , The Protection of Nationals 163 ( 1932 ).
114. Ibid .
115. Id . at 164.
116. See decision of the United States-Mexican General Claims Commission of 1923 in the Illinois Centr . R.R. case, I Opinions of Comm'r 15 , 16 .
117. Foighel , Nationalization 74 ( 1957 ).
118. O 'Connell , A Critique of the Iranian Oil Litigation, 4 ITt'l & Comp . L.Q. 267 , 270 ( 1955 ). It is difficult to understand how the breach by a sovereign of a contractual commitment can contribute to the "moral" welfare of its people .
119. Schwarzenberger , The Protection of British Property Abroad, 5 Current Legal Problems 295 , 313 ( 1952 ).
120. O 'Connell , The Law of State Succession 99 ( 1956 ). O'Connell does not argue,
137. The Committee on the Study of Nationalization of the American Branch of the International Law Association states that the fact that the International Court of Justice has been "denied" an opportunity to adjudicate this question "suggests that the States which have breached their contracts with foreigners lack confidence in the legality of their actions . " 13 Record at 376.
138. Joseph , International Aspects of Nationalization, International Bar Association, Fifth Conference 2 ( 1954 ).
139. Brander , Legal Aspects of Foreign Investments, 18 Fed. B.J. 298 , 304 ( 1958 ).
140. P.C.I.J ., ser. C, No. 78 ( 1936 ).
141. Id . at 32. Quoted in 13 Record at 373 (translation supplied by Record) .
142. 13 Record at 373 n.12. Delson, disagreeing, refers to the "fundamental distinction between contracts and treaties, since the latter, unlike the former, is a source of international law . . . . " Delson, Protection of Investments Abroad in Time of Peace , Commentary on Report of Committee , Voluntary Patron's Paper Submitted to International Bar Association, Seventh Conference 5 ( 1958 ). See, however, Wortley, Expropriation in Public International Law 36 ( 1959 ): "[T]reaties are not the sole basis of international law."