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Avocats, autres représentants, expert(s), secrétaire du tribunal


This case is before this Commission on a motion of the Mexican Agent to dismiss. It is put forward by the United States of America on behalf of North American Dredging Company of Texas, an American corporation, for the recovery of the sum of $233,523.30 with interest thereon, the amount of losses and damages alleged to have been suffered by claimant for breaches of a contract for dredging at the port of Salina Cruz, which contract was entered into between the claimant and the Government of Mexico, November 23, 1912. The contract was signed at Mexico City. The Government of Mexico was a party to it. It had for its subject matter services to be rendered by the claimant in Mexico. Payment therefor was to be made in Mexico. Article 18, incorporated by Mexico as an indispensable provision, not separable from the other provisions of the contract, was subscribed to by the claimant for the purpose of securing the award of the contract. Its translation by the Mexican Agent reads as follows :
"The contractor and all persons who, as employees or in any other capacity, may be engaged in the execution of the work under this contract either directly or indirectly, shall be considered as Mexicans in all matters, within the Republic of Mexico, concerning the execution of such work and the fulfilment of this contract. They shall not claim, nor shall they have, with regard to the interests and the business connected with this contract, any other rights or means to enforce the same than those granted by the laws of the Republic to Mexicans, nor shall they enjoy any other rights than those established in favor of Mexicans. They are consequently deprived of any rights as aliens, and under no conditions shall the intervention of foreign diplomatic agents be permitted, in any matter related to this contract."
The jurisdiction of the Commission is challenged in this case on the grounds (first) that claims based on an alleged nonperformance of contract obligations are outside the jurisdiction of this Commission and (second) that a contract containing the so-called Calvo clause deprives the party subscribing said clause of the right to submit any claims connected with his contract to an international commission.
The Commission, in its decision this day rendered on the Mexican motion to dismiss the Illinois Central Railroad Company case, Docket No. 432, has stated the reasons why it deems contractual claims to fall within its jurisdiction. It is superfluous to repeat them. The first ground of the motion is therefore rejected.

The Calvo clause

The Commission is fully sensible of the importance of any judicial decision either sustaining in whole or in part, or rejecting in whole or in part, or construing the so-called "Calvo clause" in contracts between nations and aliens. It appreciates the legitimate desire on the part of nations to deal with persons and property within their respective jurisdictions according to their own laws and to apply remedies provided by their own authorities and tribunals, which laws and remedies in no wise restrict or limit their international obligations, or restrict or limit or in any wise impinge upon the correlative rights of other nations protected under rules of international law. The problem presented in this case is whether such legitimate desire may be accomplished through appropriate and carefully phrased contracts; what form such a contract may take; what is its scope and its limitations; and does clause 18 of the contract involved in this case fall within the field where the parties are free to contract without violating any rule of international law?
The Commission does not feel impressed by arguments either in favor of or in opposition to the Calvo clause, in so far as these arguments go to extremes. The Calvo clause is neither upheld by all outstanding international authorities and by the soundest among international awards nor is it universally rejected. The Calvo clause in a specific contract is neither a clause which must be sustained to its full length because of its contractual nature nor can it be discretionarily separated from the rest of the contract as if it were just an accidental postscript. The problem is not solved by saying yes or no; the affirmative answer exposing the rights of foreigners to undeniable dangers, the negative answer leaving to the nations involved no alternative except that of exclusion of foreigners from business. The present stage of international law imposes upon every international tribunal the solemn duty of seeking for a proper and adequate balance between the sovereign right of national jurisdiction, on the one hand, and the sovereign right of national protection of citizens on the other. No international tribunal should or may evade the task of finding such limitations of both rights as will render them compatible within the general rules and principles of international law. By merely ignoring world-wide abuses either of the right of national protection or of the right of national jurisdiction no solution compatible with the requirements of modern international law can be reached.
At the very outset the Commission rejects as unsound a presentation of the problem according to which if article 18 of the present contract were upheld Mexico or any other nation might lawfully bind all foreigners by contract to relinquish all rights of protection by their governments. It is quite possible to recognize as valid some forms of waiving the right of foreign protection without thereby recognizing as valid and lawful every form of doing so.
The Commission also denies that the rules of international public law apply only to nations and that individuals can not under any circumstances have a personal standing under it. As illustrating the antiquated character of this thesis it may suffice to point out that in article 4 of the unratified International Prize Court Convention adopted at The Hague in 1907 and signed by both the United States and Mexico and by 29 other nations this conception, so far as ever held, was repudiated.
It is well known how largely the increase of civilization, intercourse, and interdependence as between nations has influenced and moderated the exaggerated conception of national sovereignty. As civilization has progressed individualism has increased ; and so has the right of the individual citizen to decide upon the ties between himself and his native country. There was a time when governments and not individuals decided if a man was allowed to change his nationality or his residence, and when even if he had changed either of them his government sought to lay burdens on him for having done so. To acknowledge that under the existing laws of progressive, enlightened civilization a person may voluntarily expatriate himself but that short of expatriation he may not by contract, in what he conceives to be his own interest, to any extent loosen the ties which bind him to his country is neither consistent with the facts of modern international intercourse nor with corresponding developments in the field of international law and does not tend to promote good will among nations.

Lawfulness of the Calvo clause

The contested provision, in this case, is part of a contract and must be upheld unless it be repugnant to a recognized rule of international law. What must be established is not that the Calvo clause is universally accepted or universally recognized, but that there exists a generally accepted rule of international law condemning the Calvo clause and denying to an individual the right to relinquish to any extent, large or small, and under any circumstances or conditions, the protection of the government to which he owes allegiance. Only in case a provision of this or any similar tendency were established could a parallel be drawn between the illegality of the Calvo clause in the present contract and the illegality of a similar clause in the Arkansas contract declared void in 1922 by the Supreme Court of the United States (257 U.S. 529) because of its repugnance to American statute provisions. It is as little doubtful nowadays as it was in the day of the Geneva Arbitration that international law is paramount to decrees of nations and to municipal law ; but the task before this Commission precisely is to ascertain whether international law really contains a rule prohibiting contract provisions attempting to accomplish the purpose of the Calvo clause.
The commission does not hesitate to declare that there exists no international rule prohibiting the sovereign right of a nation to protect its citizens abroad from being subject to any limitation whatsoever under any circumstances. The right of protection has been limited by treaties between nations in provisions related to the Calvo clause. While it is true that Latin-American countries—which are important members of the family of nations and which have played for many years an important and honorable part in the development of international law—are parties to most of these treaties, still such countries as France, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, Norway, and Belgium, and in one case at least even the United States of America (Treaty between the United States and Peru dated September 6, 1870, Volume 2, Malloy’s United States Treaties, at page 1426; article 37) have been parties to treaties containing such provisions.
What Mexico has asked of the North American Dredging Company of Texas as a condition for awarding it the contract which it sought is, "If all of the means of enforcing your rights under this contract afforded by Mexican law, even against the Mexican Government itself, are wide open to you, as they are wide open to our own citizens, will you promise not to ignore them and not to call directly upon your own Government to intervene in your behalf in connexion with any controversy, small or large, but seek redress under the laws of Mexico through the authorities and tribunals furnished by Mexico for your protection?" and the claimant, by subscribing to this contract and seeking the benefits which were to accrue to him thereunder, has answered, "I promise".
Under the rules of international law may an alien lawfully make such a promise? The Commission holds that he may, but at the same time holds of that he can not deprive the government of his nation of its undoubted right of applying international remedies to violations of international law committed to his damage. Such government frequently has a larger interest in maintaining the principles of international law than in recovering damage for one of its citizens in a particular case, and manifestly such citizen can not by contract tie in this respect the hands of his Government. But while any attempt to so bind his Government is void, the Commission has not found any generally recognized rule of positive international law which would give to his Government the right to intervene to strike down a lawful contract, in the terms set forth in the preceding paragraph 10, entered into by its citizen. The obvious purpose of such a contract is to prevent abuses of the right to protection, not to destroy the right itself—abuses which are intolerable to any selfrespecting nation and are prolific breeders of international friction. The purpose of such a contract is to draw a reasonable and practical line between Mexico’s sovereign right of jurisdiction within its own territory, on the one hand, and the sovereign right of protection of the Government of an alien whose person or property is within such territory, on the other hand. Unless such line is drawn and if these two coexisting rights are permitted constantly to overlap, continual friction is inevitable.
It being impossible to prove the illegality of the said provision, under the limitations indicated, by adducing generally recognized rules of positive international law, it apparently can only be contested by invoking its incongruity to the law of nature (natural rights) and its inconsistency with inalienable, indestructible, unprescriptible, uncurtailable rights of nations. The law of nature may have been helpful, some three centuries ago, to build up a new law of nations, and the conception of inalienable rights of men and nations may have exercised a salutary influence, some one hundred and fifty years ago, on the development of modern democracy on both sides of the ocean; but they have failed as a durable foundation of either municipal or international law and can not be used in the present day as substitutes for positive municipal law, on the one hand, and for positive international law, as recognized by nations and governments through their acts and statements, on the other hand. Inalienable rights have been the cornerstones of policies like those of the Holy Alliance and of Lord Palmerston; instead of bringing to the world the benefit of mutual understanding, they are to weak or less fortunate nations an unrestrained menace.

Interpretation of the Calvo clause in the present contract

What is the true meaning of article 18 of the present contract? It is essential to state that the closing words of the article should be combined so as to read: "being deprived, in consequence, of any rights as aliens in any matter connected with this contract, and without the intervention of foreign diplomatic agents being in any case permissible in any matter connected with this contract". Both the commas and the phrasing show that the words "in any matter connected with this contract" are a limitation on either of the two statements contained in the closing words of the article.
Reading this article as a whole, it is evident that its purpose was to bind the claimant to be governed by the laws of Mexico and to use the remedies existing under such laws. The closing words "in any matter connected with this contract" must be read in connection with the preceding phrase "in everything connected with the execution of such work and the fulfillment of this contract" and also in connection with the phrase "regarding the interests or business connected with this contract". In other words, in executing the contract, in fulfilling the contract, or in putting forth any claim "regarding the interests or business connected with this contract", the claimant should be governed by those laws and remedies which Mexico had provided for the protection of its own citizens. But this provision did not, and could not, deprive the claimant of his American citizenship and all that that implies. It did not take from him his undoubted right to apply to his own Government for protection if his resort to the Mexican tribunals or other authorities available to him resulted in a denial or delay of justice as that term is used in international law. In such a case the claimant’s complaint would be not that his contract was violated but that he had been denied justice. The basis of his appeal would be not a construction of his contract, save perchance in an incidental way, but rather an internationally illegal act.
What, therefore, are the rights which claimant waived and those which he did not waive in subscribing to article 18 of the contract ? (a) He waived his right to conduct himself as if no competent authorities existed in Mexico; as if he were engaged in fulfilling a contract in an inferior country subject to a system of capitulations; and as if the only real remedies available to him in the fulfilment, construction, and enforcement of this contract were international remedies. All these he waived and had a right to waive, (b) He did not waive any right which he possessed as an American citizen as to any matter not connected with the fulfilment, execution, or enforcement of this contract as such, (c) He did not waive his undoubted right as an American citizen to apply to his Government for protection against the violation of international law (internationally illegal acts) whether growing out of this contract or out of other situations, (d) He did not and could not affect the right of his Government to extend to him its protection in general or to extend to him its protection against breaches of international law. But he did frankly and unreservedly agree that in consideration of the Government of Mexico awarding him this contract, he did not need and would not invoke or accept the assistance of his Government with respect to the fulfilment and interpretation of his contract and the execution of his work thereunder. The conception that a citizen in doing so impinges upon a sovereign, inalienable, unlimited right of his government belongs to those ages and countries which prohibited the giving up of his citizenship by a citizen or allowed him to relinquish it only with the special permission of his government.
It is quite true that this construction of article 18 of the contract does not effect complete equality between the foreigner subscribing the contract on the one hand and Mexicans on the other hand. Apart from the fact that equality of legal status between citizens and foreigners is by no means a requisite of international law—in some respects the citizen has greater rights and larger duties, in other respects the foreigner has—article 18 only purposes equality between the foreigner and Mexicans with respect to the execution, fulfilment, and interpretation of this contract and such limited equality is properly obtained.
The Commission ventures to suggest that it would strengthen and stimulate friendly relations between nations if in the future such important clauses in contracts as article 18 in the contract in question were couched in such clear, simple, and straightforward language, frankly expressing its purpose with all necessary limitations and restraints as would preclude the possibility of misinterpretation and render it insusceptible of such extreme construction as sought to be put upon article 18 in this instance, which if adopted would result in striking it down as illegal.

The Calvo clause and the claimant

If it were necessary to demonstrate how legitimate are the fears of certain nations with respect to abuses of the right of protection and how seriously the sovereignty of those nations within their own boundaries would be impaired if some extreme conceptions of this right were recognized and enforced, the present case would furnish an illuminating example. The claimant, after having solemnly promised in writing that it would not ignore the local laws, remedies, and authorities, behaved from the very beginning as if article 18 of its contract had no existence in fact. It used the article to procure the contract, but this was the extent of its use. It has never sought any redress by application to the local authorities and remedies which article 18 liberally granted it and which, according to Mexican law, are available to it, even against the Government, without restrictions, both in matter of civil and of public law. It has gone so far as to declare itself freed from its contract obligations by its ipse dixit instead of having resort to the local tribunals to construe its contract and its rights thereunder. And it has gone so far as to declare that it was not bound by article 7 of the contract and to forcibly remove a dredge to which, under that article, the Government of Mexico considered itself entitled as security for the proper fulfillment of its contract with claimant. While its behavior during the spring and summer of 1914, the latter part of the Huerta administration, may be in part explained by the unhappy conditions of friction then existing between the two countries in connection with the military occupation of Veracruz by the United States, this explanation can not be extended from the year 1917 to the date of the filing of its claim before this Commission, during all of which time it has ignored the open doors of Mexican tribunals. The record before this Commission strongly suggests that the claimant used article 18 to procure the contract with no intention of ever observing its provisions.

The Calvo clause and the Claims Convention

Claims accruing prior to the signing of the Treaty must, in order to fall within the jurisdiction of this Commission under Article I of the Treaty, either have been "presented" before September 8, 1923, by a citizen of one of the Nations parties to the agreement "to [his] Government for its interposition with the other", or, after September 8, 1923, "such claims"— i.e., claims presented for interposition—may be filed by either Government with this Commission. Two things are therefore essential, (1) the presentation by the citizen of a claim to his Government and (2) the espousal of such claim by that Government. But it is urged that when a Government espouses and presents a claim here, the private interest in the claim is merged in the Nation in the sense that the private interest is entirely eliminated and the claim is a national claim, and that therefore this Commission can not look behind the act of the Government espousing it to discover the private interest therein or to ascertain whether or not the private claimant has presented or may rightfully present the claim to his Government for interposition. This view is rejected by the Commission for the reasons set forth in the second paragraph of the opinion in the Parker claim (Docket No. 127), this day decided by this Commission, and need not be repeated here.
Under article 18 of the contract declared upon the present claimant is precluded from presenting to its Government any claim relative to the interpretation or fulfillment of this contract. If it had a claim for denial of justice, for delay of justice or gross injustice, or for any other violation of international law committed by Mexico to its damage, it might have presented such a claim to its Government, which in turn could have espoused it and presented it here. Although the claim as presented falls within the first clause of Article I of the Treaty, describing claims coming within this Commission’s jurisdiction, it is not a claim that may be rightfully presented by the claimant to its Government for espousal and hence is not cognizable here, pursuant to the latter part of paragraph 1 of the same Article I.
It is urged that the claim may be presented by claimant to its Government for espousal in view of the provision of Article V of the Treaty, to the effect "that no claim shall be disallowed or rejected by the Commission by the application of the general principle of international law that the legal remedies must be exhausted as a condition precedent to the validity or allowance of any claim". This provision is limited to the application of a general principle of international law to claims that may be presented to the Commission falling within the terms of Article I of the Treaty, and if under the terms of Article I the private claimant can not rightfully present its claim to its Government and the claim therefore can not become cognizable here, Article V does not apply to it, nor can it render the claim cognizable, nor does it entitle either Government to set aside an express valid contract between one of its citizens and the other Government.

Extent of the present interpretation of the Calvo clause

Manifestly it is impossible for this Commission to announce an allembracing formula to determine the validity or invalidity of all clauses partaking of the nature of the Calvo clause, which may be found in contracts, decrees, statutes, or constitutions, and under widely varying conditions. Whenever such a provision is so phrased as to seek to preclude a Government from intervening, diplomatically or otherwise, to protect its citizen whose rights of any nature have been invaded by another Government in violation of the rules and principles of international law, the Commission will have no hesitation in pronouncing the provision void. Nor does this decision in any way apply to claims not based on express contract provisions in writing and signed by the claimant or by one through whom the claimant has deraigned title to the particular claim. Nor will any provision in any constitution, statute, law, or decree, whatever its form, to which the claimant has not in some form expressly subscribed in writing, howsoever it may operate or affect his claim, preclude him from presenting his claim to his Government or the Government from espousing it and presenting it to this Commission for decision under the terms of the Treaty.
Even so, each case involving application of a valid clause partaking of the nature of the Calvo clause will be considered and decided on its merits. Where a claim is based on an alleged violation of any rule or principle of international law, the Commission will take jurisdiction notwithstanding the existence of such a clause in a contract subscribed by such claimant. But where a claimant has expressly agreed in writing, attested by his signature, that in all matters pertaining to the execution, fulfilment, and interpretation of the contract he will have resort to local tribunals, remedies, and authorities and then wilfully ignores them by applying in such matters to his Government, he will be held bound by his contract and the Commission will not take jurisdiction of such claim.

Summary of the considerations on the Calvo clause

(a) The Treaty between the two Governments under which this Commission is constituted requires that a claim accruing before September 8, 1923, to fall within its jurisdiction must be that of a citizen of one Government against the other Government and must not only be espoused by the first Government and put forward by it before this Commission but, as a condition precedent to such espousal, must have been presented to it for its interposition by the private claimant.

(b) The question then arises, Has the private claimant in this case put itself in a position where it has the right to present its claim to the Government of the United States for its interposition? The answer to this question depends upon the construction to be given to article 18 of the contract on which the claim rests.

(c) In article 18 of the contract the claimant expressly agreed that in all matters connected with the execution of the work covered by the contract and the fulfilment of its contract obligations and the enforcement of its contract rights it would be bound and governed by the laws of Mexico administered by the authorities and courts of Mexico and would not invoke or accept the assistance of his Government. Further than this it did not bind itself. Under the rules of international law the claimant (as well as the Government of Mexico) was without power to agree, and did not in fact agree, that the claimant would not request the Government of the United States, of which it was a citizen, to intervene in its behalf in the event of internationally illegal acts done to the claimant by the Mexican authorities.

(d) The contract declared upon, which was sought by claimant, would not have been awarded it without incorporating the substance of article 18 therein. The claimant does not pretend that it has made any attempt to comply with the terms of that article, which as here construed is binding on it. Therefore the claimant has not put itself in a position where it may rightfully present this claim to the Government of the United States for its interposition.

(e) While it is true that under Article V of the Treaty the two Governments have agreed "that no claim shall be disallowed or rejected by the Commission by the application of the general principle of international law that the legal remedies must be exhausted as a condition precedent to the validity or allowance of any claim", this provision is limited to claims falling under Article I and therefore rightfully presented by the claimant.

(f) If it were necessary to so construe article 18 of the contract as to bind the claimant not to apply to its Government to intervene diplomatically or otherwise in the event of a denial of justice to the claimant growing out of the contract declared upon or out of any other situation, then this Commission would have no hesitation in holding such a clause void ab initio and not binding on the claimant.

(g) The foregoing pertains to the power of the claimant to bind itself by contract. It is clear that the claimant could not under any circumstances bind its Government with respect to remedies for violations of international law.

(h) As the claimant voluntarily entered into a legal contract binding itself not to call as to this contract upon its Government to intervene in its behalf, and as all of its claim relates to this contract, and as therefore it can not present its claim to its Government for interposition or espousal before this Commission, the second ground of the notion to dismiss is sustained.


The Commission decides that the case as presented is not within its jurisdiction and the motion of the Mexican Agent to dismiss it is sustained and the case is hereby dismissed without prejudice to the claimant to pursue his remedies elsewhere or to seek remedies before this Commission for claims arsing alter the signing of the Treaty of September 8, 1923.
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