Law, College of


Date of this Version



Published by von der Dunk in Proceedings of the Forty-Fourth Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space 442-452 (2001). Copyright 2001, Frans G. von der Dunk. Used by permission


1. Introduction-The subject of dispute settlement is at the heart of every legal system or subsystem, whether national or international, and in principle it should not be any different for space law either. Indeed, amongst space law experts often attention has been paid to this issue, if indeed usually confined to such experts, like in the context of the International Law Association where a draft convention for the settlements of space law disputes was developed.

2. The issue of dispute settlement in space law-The general picture sketched above has of course undergone considerable change over the last years, perhaps most notably when it comes to the constituency of players. Following almost world-wide trends of liberalisation and privatisation as well as globalisation, private entities and intergovernmental organisations have increasingly become key players also within the field of space activities. Spurred by potential or actual commercial benefits, moreover, the number of states becoming involved and interested increased rapidly - and some of them started to not behave very much like gentlemen anymore.

3. The parties to a dispute- As Dr. Huikang pointed out, dispute settlement in the first place is about parties. Basically, they can be of three different types. Sovereign states constitute the first category from a historical as well as a legal point of view. In spite of the increasing role of other players in the international arena (including space), and in spite of growing legal recognition, even personality, of such other players, states still provide the lynchpin of the system of public international law.

4. The issue of parties: a few preliminary remarks- The threefold distinction as between players as sketched - of states, intergovernmental organisations (IGO's) and private entities -leads to a first major tool for analysing the issue of dispute settlement regarding space activities. State-versus-state disputes are, in view of the foregoing, both the most likely type of dispute to arise under international law, and most fit for being solved at the international (law) level. They form the classical type of dispute in general international law, and this remains true for international space law, viz. the law relevant for space activities, as well.

5. The legal character of the dispute- Dispute settlement may be about parties, it certainly is also about law. Hence, there are two more major distinguishing factors to be discerned and discussed. This concerns the character of the dispute; where there is both an issue of private law-versus public law, and one of whether criminal, civil or administrative law is concerned.

6. Towards 'filling in' the matrix - a few provisional conclusions- In order to get a clear picture of the need for additional (space law dedicated) dispute settlement mechanisms, respectively space for such mechanisms, the above matrix should be 'filled in' . The present analysis only focuses on existing dispute settlement mechanisms that are or reasonably may be of interest for parties to a dispute related to space activities and space law, and then only some of them, to make the point. In most cases, it should be stressed, relevant documents anyway refer back in a general way to existing and broadly available opportunities offered by dispute settlement mechanisms independent from and outside of the scope of the document in question.