Mixed Commissions

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MIXED COMMISSIONS. Under international law, mixed commissions are instruments of arbitration that have been established by bilateral or multilateral treaties. They are made up of members of different nationalities for the purpose of settling international disputes peacefully. These bodies may function as mixed claims commissions, conciliation commissions, or commissions of inquiry.

The concept of mixed commissions is generally regarded to have begun with Jay's Treaty of 1794 between the United States and Great Britain. This treaty included provisions for the establishment of three mixed commissions to resolve a number of issues that they had been unable to settle through negotiation. These commissions were made up of both American and British nationals, and while not strictly bodies of third-party mediation, they did function to some extent as tribunals and served to help revive interest in arbitration as a means of resolving international quarrels. Perhaps more important from the American perspective, the agreement to use these mixed commissions to resolve disagreements implied equality between the young United States and Great Britain. In the following decades, mixed commissions and arbitration were used often by the Americans and British to resolve their disagreements, as well as by other European and American nations.

Resolution of the Alabamaclaims between the United States and Great Britain established a precedent for successful arbitration. In order to adjudicate claims arising from a dispute from alleged breaches of neutrality on England's part during the Civil War, a mixed commission made up of representatives from Italy, Brazil, and Switzerland was created. Ultimately the commission awarded damages to the United States. The United States also took part in mixed claims commissions with Mexico in 1868 and Germany after World War I.

Conciliation commissions, such as those provided for in the twenty "cooling-off" treaties negotiated by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan with various European states between 1913 and 1915, were designed to determine facts in a dispute and offer recommendations for settlement. Bryan's treaties each involved the appointment of a five-member commission to investigate the facts and offer a recommendation for a cordial resolution of the dispute. Although similar to conciliation commissions, a commission of inquiry simply endeavors to determine the facts in an international dispute. The United States was a participant in the Lytton Commission, which investigated the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and whose report led to Japan's withdrawal from the League of Nations.

Mixed commissions do not always bring about a successful resolution of a dispute or claims for damages. Following the Iran hostage crisis of November 1979–January 1981, the financial claims resulting from the dispute were submitted to the Iran–United States Claims Tribunal, which convened in May 1981. Made up of nine members, three each appointed by the United States and Iran, with the remainder chosen on the basis of mutual agreement, the commission failed to produce a resolution of any of the major issues after two years of effort.


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Clement, Kendrick A. William Jennings Bryan: Missionary Isolationist. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 1982.

Merrill, J.G. International Dispute Settlement. 3rd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1998.

Wolfe, James H. Modern International Law: An Introduction to the Law of Nations. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2002.