To hold the Russian Federation liable for its cynical plundering of OAO Yukos Oil Company, as a tribunal in The Hague did in a historic ruling announced Monday, is a triumph for the oft-criticized system of investment arbitration. Unlike the European Court of Human Rights in Yukos v. Russia, the arbitrators in Yukos Majority Shareholders v. Russia passed the test of speaking truth to power. The tribunal belied the critique that investment arbitration is always at odds with human rights. To the contrary, investment arbitration is a powerful club for the disempowered (but not impoverished) to wield against the body that has always been the worst abuser of human rights: the state.

So it’s easy to see the justice in taking $50 billion from Russia. The hard part is to justify giving $50 billion to five wealthy friends of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

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