Site Visit

by Marco Benatar

This paper was first published as ‘MPILux Working Paper 9 (2017)’. The full and final text is now available online as an entry of the Max Planck Encyclopedia of International Procedural Law, published by OUP at

Abstract: In proceedings before non-criminal international tribunals it is predominantly the parties who bear the primary responsibility of producing evidence. This does not mean, however, that judges and arbitrators are relegated to a merely passive role in the realm of evidence. International adjudicators may exercise a number of powers proprio motu geared towards the establishment of facts relevant to the pending case. One such power is the ability to conduct a site visit (or descente sur les lieux), which is a visit to a locality or spot connected to the case under consideration. By visiting significant sites, judges and arbitrators are able to familiarize themselves with the situation on the ground. According to certain scholars, in loco inspections should be carried out for the purpose of gathering evidence.

This entry will first discuss the legal framework governing site visits by non-criminal international tribunals, exploring the juridical basis for ordering inspections on the spot and the conditions under which they are carried out. A second part will take a closer look at the site visits that have been conducted as well as cases in which suggested visits were declined. A final part reveals several patterns that have emerged and assesses the impact of visits in situ on the evidentiary practice of international courts and tribunals.