14 January 2022

Mélanie Riofrio: "Ten years ago, it was difficult to mention more than three well known female arbitrators"

1. What is the reason that prompted you to start a career in international arbitration?

From a very young age I always liked to reconcile conflicting positions; listen to the arguments of each party and take decisions that were the most consistent with justice and reasonableness. Coming from a multicultural background helped me to enhance my abilities to bring interests together and build bridges of understanding between different cultures. At the beginning of my career, I knew that I wanted to contribute to the resolution of disputes peacefully. This is what sparked my interest in international arbitration.


2. What are the advantages of international arbitration compared to ordinary court proceedings?

Arbitration is a consensual, neutral, binding and enforceable means of international dispute resolution. There are many advantages of international arbitration compared to ordinary court proceedings. First, it allows the parties to resolve their disputes in a neutral forum. 

Second, the parties can tailor-make the procedure to their specific needs. Pursuant to the principle of freedom of choice; parties can agree on the arbitrators, the language of the proceedings, the seat of the arbitration, the applicable law, the place where the hearing will be held, etc. The procedural flexibility arbitration has, allows it to be more efficient and better adapted to disputes with parties from different jurisdictions. 

Third, the award can be recognized and enforced thanks to international treaties such as the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. This Convention provides a straightforward way to enforce awards without the complications often involved in trying to enforce court judgments. 


3. Is the expansion of the role of women in arbitration a current fact or has it been going on for years?

The representation of female arbitration models has increased over time with the effort of many women who are paving the way for new generations. Ten years ago, it was difficult to mention more than three well known female arbitrators. Today I can think of countless talented, respected and internationally recognized female professionals that act as arbitrators. This is thanks to the efforts of the international arbitral community and organizations such as the Equal Representation in Arbitration (ERA), the Club Español del Arbitraje (CEA mujeres), Woman Way in Arbitration (WWA), etc…


4. What are your expectations of working as an arbitrator for ICSID? 

I feel very honoured to have been included in the ICSID Panel of Arbitrators. Some of my most enriching cases during my time as secretary of arbitral tribunals, were ICSID cases. The subject matters are very varied and intellectually stimulating. The public and private nature of investment arbitration makes it extremely interesting. I am looking forward to continuing my experience in these cases as an arbitrator.


5. What are the challenges in arbitration today?

In my opinion, costs and delays are, in some specific cases, challenges to overcome in arbitration. For example, one of the aspects that can become a leviathan for arbitration is the exhibition of documents. If not handled properly, this procedural phase can become a long and costly exercise. Arbitration is an extremely useful and time and cost-efficient tool to solve international disputes; it all boils down to how the parties and the tribunal manage the case.

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