The History of the CIDIP Process

Development of Private International Law

Private international law is the body of law that regulates relationships between individuals in an international context. These “individuals” can be natural or legally created persons (such as a corporation) but they are private, rather than public or state actors. The “relationships” can be in civil or family matters (e.g., cross-border litigation, adoption or divorce) or commercial matters (e.g., international contracts or bankruptcy). The body of law is comprised of international instruments (such as conventions and models laws), jurisprudence, practice and custom. Originally, the field of private international law was limited to “conflict of laws” or, the determination of which state’s law should be applied to govern or resolve such cases. With greater congruence among the laws of different states, the greater is the ease with which private actors can conduct cross-border business and arrange their personal affairs. Harmonization, codification and the development of private international law is the process by which such congruence between the laws of states can be achieved over time. 

The History of the CIDIP Process

In the context of the Americas, the process of harmonization, codification and development of private international law has been ongoing since the closing decades of the 1800s. The adoption of the first Treaties of Montevideo in 1889 and of the Bustamante Code in 1928 laid the groundwork for the establishment of private international law in this Hemisphere. Over the years this work has taken different institutional forms; the most widely recognized of these is the legal process through the Inter-American Specialized Conferences on Private International Law (known by the Spanish acronym “CIDIP”).

Since the start of the codification of private international law, two different approaches have been taken. The first approach envisaged a single comprehensive code to encompass all of the rules of this discipline, while the other approach envisaged a process that was more gradual and progressive, to develop specific international instruments in discrete areas of the law.

The first approach was the prevailing one during the Congress of Lima in 1877 and culminated in the adoption of a single code of international law, the Bustamante Code, at the Sixth International Conference of American States in Havana in 1928. In the period immediately following the establishment of the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Juridical Committee made new efforts to codify all the different areas of private international law. To that end, the Committee proposed to review the Bustamante Code to determine whether it was possible to merge its provisions with those of the Montevideo treaties of 1889 and 1939-1940, in light of the U.S. Restatement of the Law of the Conflict of Laws for private international law. As a result of this effort, the Inter-American Juridical Committee prepared a draft code; however, it was not supported by the Member States of the Organization. This led to the abandonment of the unitary approach to codification and the beginning of the second stage, in which sectoral codification of private international law has predominated.

Thus, beginning in 1971, the mechanisms previously used in the treatment of private international law in the American context were replaced by the Specialized Conferences, or CIDIPs, with which we are familiar today. The Charter of the OAS describes Specialized Conferences as “intergovernmental meetings to deal with special technical matters or to develop specific aspects of inter-American cooperation”[1]/

[1]. Charter of the Organization of American States, Article 122.

Results of the CIDIP to Date

CIDIPs have been the primary mechanism used since the 1970s to address matters of private international law. One of the CIDIPs’ main features is its progressive continuity, in that the issues considered at a particular CIDIP frequently consist of recommendations made at the previous CIDIP. In the interim, these proposed topics become the subject of meetings of experts, who discuss these highly specialized areas of private international law.

To date, seven CIDIPs have been held in various cities throughout the Americas: Panama City in 1975; Montevideo in 1979; La Paz in 1984; Montevideo in 1989; Mexico City in 1994; and Washington, D.C. in 2002 and 2009. In all, 26 inter-American instruments (including conventions, protocols, uniform documents and a model law) have been adopted on various matters related to effective legal and judicial cooperation among the states and efficacy in civil, family, commercial and procedural relations.

In 1975 at CIDIP-I, OAS Member States adopted six conventions covering international trade and procedural law. These are the Inter-American Conventions on Conflict of Laws concerning Bills of Exchange, Promissory Notes, and Invoices; Conflict of Laws concerning Checks; International Commercial Arbitration; Letters Rogatory; Taking of Evidence Abroad; and the Legal Regime of Powers of Attorney to be used Abroad.

In 1979 at CIDIP-II, OAS Member States adopted 8 international instruments concerning aspects of international trade law and international procedural law, as well as conventions on legal institutions related to the general aspects covered by this branch of the law. The conventions on international trade law include the Inter-American Conventions on Conflicts of Laws Concerning Checks and Conflicts of Laws Concerning Commercial Companies. The conventions regarding procedural law include the Inter-American Conventions on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitral Awards; Execution of Preventive Measures; Proof and Information on Foreign Law; and the Additional Protocol to the Inter-American Convention on Letters Rogatory. General aspects of private international law were addressed in the Inter-American Conventions on the Domicile of Natural Persons in Private International Law and on General Rules of Private International Law.

In 1984 at CIDIP-III, OAS Member States adopted international instruments on international civil law and international procedural law. The first group includes the Inter-American Conventions on Conflict of Laws Concerning the Adoption of Minors and on Personality and Capacity of Juridical Persons in Private International Law. The second group includes the Inter-American Convention on Jurisdiction in the International Sphere for the Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and the Additional Protocol to the Inter-American Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad.

In 1989 at CIDIP-IV, OAS Member States approved the Inter-American Conventions on International Return of Children; Support Obligations; and Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods by Road.

In 1994 at CIDIP-V, OAS Member States approved the Inter-American Convention on Law Applicable to International Contracts and the Inter-American Convention on International Traffic in Minors.

In 2002 at CIDIP-VI, OAS Member States adopted the Model Inter-American Law on Secured Transactions and the Inter-American Uniform Through Bill of Lading for the International Carriage of Goods by Road. In 2009 at CIDP-VI, the Model Registry Regulations under the Model Law were adopted.

Value of CIDIP

Each of the CIDIP conferences involves a great deal of preparatory work, comprised of studies that include reviews and comparisons of national legislation and existing international law. This preparatory work enables the legal and political entities of the OAS and experts from Member States to prepare and consider the draft instruments that are to be considered for adoption at the CIDIP.

This lengthy but necessary process does not end with the adoption of the international instruments. In fact, the process that is started with each successive CIDIP should lead to ratification by the Member States followed by any necessary action to achieve implementation. Support to raise awareness is required by all concerned parties.

The international instruments that have emanated from CIDIP have had a definitive impact on the national legislation of countries in the region and on the jurisprudence of their courts. Ultimately, this has resulted in an immediate effect on the daily lives of individuals throughout this Hemisphere.