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Home Archive for category "State Immunity"

Sovereign Debt Litigation Against Argentina: An Aberration or A New Routine?

Published on September 4, 2014        Author: 

hayk

Hayk Kupelyants is a PhD candidate at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge.

Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis led to one of the most extensive sovereign debt restructurings in history. In hindsight, it was also one of the harshest, in terms of Argentina’s negotiating stance and the losses incurred by bondholders. Ninety-three percent of holders of Argentine sovereign bonds eventually accepted the terms of two restructurings in 2005 and 2010, but seven percent of bondholders, holding an approximate US $4 billion of Argentine sovereign bonds “held out,” or declined to accept restructured bonds. The plaintiffs in the litigation discussed in this post hold US $1.7 billion, which they seek to recover through litigation in US courts.

NML Capital and other hedge funds purchased the Argentine bonds on the ‘secondary market’, i.e. on the market of previously issued financial instruments, from the original owners of bonds. The business model of hedge funds specialising in distressed debt is to purchase sovereign debt or judgments against a sovereign on the secondary market at a deeply reduced price to their par and, by consistently holding out from the renegotiation process and aggressively litigating, recover the full value of the bonds. The Argentine bonds purchased by the hedge funds contained choice of forum clauses in favour of New York courts, choice of law clauses in favour of New York law and broad waivers of sovereign immunity. The combination of these clauses should havemade the effort of recovering the debt much less painful. However, the hedge funds’ continuous efforts  to enforce US judgments in their favour around the world have so far been modestly successful at best.

In the view of many, the balance of powers may change as a result of the recent US litigation. The US court litigation discussed in this blog post has been called ‘the trial of the century’ or the litigation that will change the landscape of sovereign debt restructurings. It has been remarkable, as the hedge funds have come close to being repaid under the bonds purchased on the secondary market. In an unprecendented turn of the litigation, the holdout creditors have obtained third-party injunctions from US courts that have driven a sovereign state to default. Read the rest of this entry…

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ICC Issues New Decision on Al-Bashir’s Immunities ‒ But Gets the Law Wrong … Again

Published on April 18, 2014        Author: 

André de Hoogh.croppedAbel Knottnerus.croppedAndré de Hoogh (pictured left) is a Senior Lecturer in International Law in the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen. Abel S. Knottnerus (pictured right) is a PhD Researcher at the Legal Theory Department of the University of Groningen.

Last week Pre-Trial Chamber II (PTC) issued a new decision on the obligation of ICC States Parties to arrest President Omar Al-Bashir irrespective of his immunities as Head of State (here). The PTC found that the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) failed to cooperate with the Court by not arresting the Sudanese President during his visit to the country earlier this year and decided to refer the matter to the Assembly of States Parties and the Security Council.

This finding does not come as surprise. The PTC established in previous decisions that all States Parties have an obligation to arrest Al-Bashir and found that Chad and Malawi failed to comply with this obligation by welcoming Al-Bashir on their territory in 2011. However, the motivation underlying the Court’s latest decision is novel. In contrast to the much debated rulings on the non-cooperation of Malawi (here) and Chad (here), the PTC did not base its new decision on an exception existing under customary international law to the personal immunities of Heads of State when they face prosecution before an international criminal tribunal. Instead, the PTC held that Security Council Resolution 1593, which referred the situation in Darfur to the Court, “implicitly waived the immunities granted to Omar Al-Bashir under international law and attached to his position as a Head of State” (para. 29).

As readers might recall from previous posts (here), Dapo Akande has advised the PTC to follow a similar “route” on this issue. In his posts and publications (here, for other commentators see here and here), he has maintained that the Court could decide:

“[that the Security Council’s referral] has the consequence that Sudan (or Libya) is bound by the Statute (including Article 27)… [T]his would therefore mean that those States are to be regarded as in the same position as a State party to the Rome Statute” (here).

In this post, we want to make a number of provisional – but already quite critical – observations on the Chamber’s new decision. Most importantly, this post is meant to give a kick-start to the discussion on the Court’s remarkable change of heart. Read the rest of this entry…

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Jones v UK: On analogies and inconsistencies in the application of immunity rules

Published on January 21, 2014        Author: 

Micaela Frulli is Associate Professor of Public International Law at the University of Florence, Italy.

As Philippa Webb and Lorna McGregor have already outlined in their EJIL Talk! Posts, the ECtHR in Jones and Others v the United Kingdom  seems to have based its reasoning on the assumption that State immunity always shields State officials from civil proceedings before a foreign court and, as a consequence, it did not take into consideration the existence of different kinds of immunities accruing to the State and to its officials. The acknowledgment of a complete correspondence between State immunity and the immunity of State officials – and the reconfirmation of Al-Adsani which however only concerned State immunity – is unfortunate precisely because it does not take into account the possible existence or  development of different and autonomous rules regulating the immunity of State officials and the immunity of the State itself, at the very least with reference to cases where international crimes were committed and which entail a dual responsibility, as Lorna has stressed. It is worth fleshing out a few considerations on analogies and inconsistencies in the application of immunity rules in this area.

It is generally agreed – albeit from very different theoretical perspectives – and supported by considerable case-law, that functional immunity cannot apply in cases where State officials have allegedly committed international crimes, neither before a domestic nor before an international criminal court. On the other hand, according to the prevailing opinion (upheld by the ICJ in the Jurisdictional Immunities Judgment), the State on whose behalf the accused official was acting enjoys immunity from the civil jurisdiction of foreign States for the very same crimes. There is an inherent contradiction in the current ‘state of the art’ concerning the application of immunity rules – as underlined by the Institut de Droit International in its Resolution adopted in September 2009. A State official may not invoke official capacity as a defence, justification or excuse in a criminal trial before a competent tribunal of a foreign State, whereas the State on which behalf he or she has acted – that could have tolerated, authorized or even organized the commission of the alleged crime – may call upon respect for its sovereignty not to be subject to civil proceedings before the courts of a foreign State. States always emphasize that domestic courts are not the appropriate forum for adjudicating State responsibility and that immunity from foreign jurisdiction does not absolve States from their responsibility. However, we have witnessed too many cases where no interstate forum was available nor there were alternative avenues for the victims. Read the rest of this entry…

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Jones v. UK: A Disappointing End

Published on January 16, 2014        Author: 

Lorna McGregor is the Director of the Human Rights Centre and Reader in Law at the University of Essex.  She was previously the International Legal Adviser at REDRESS which acted as a third party intervener in the case.

In 2012, Professor Andrea Bianchi pronounced on EJIL Talk! that we finally had certainty on the relationship between state immunity and human rights with the issuance of the International Court of Justice’s decision in Germany v Italy (Greece Intervening)On the widest argument that jus cogens norms trump immunity, I agreed (‘State Immunity and Human Rights: Is there a Future after Germany v Italy’ 1 JICJ 2013).  The Italian and Greek courts had been the only national courts to entertain the proposition and no court was likely to do so again once the ICJ had resolutely rejected it.  However, I speculated that we did not have certainty yet on two issues:

1)      whether the provision of state immunity violates the right of access to a court where no alternative remedy exists; and

2)      whether foreign state officials enjoy subject-matter immunity in civil proceedings for alleged acts that attract individual responsibility under international law.

The European Court now appears to have firmly closed the door on these two points but in a way that is dissatisfying for the reasoning it employs to get there.

A Lack of Alternative Means to Resolve the Complaint

In Jones and Others v United Kingdom, my expectation was that the Court would resolve the confusion that started in Al-AdsaniIn that case, the Court rejected the Government’s argument that Article 6(1) did not apply to ‘matters outside the State’s jurisdiction’ and ‘as international law required an immunity in the present case, the facts fell outside the jurisdiction of the national courts and, consequently, Article 6’ (para 44).  However, in finding Article 6(1) to be engaged, it also failed to take up the Government’s submission that ‘[t]here were other, traditional means of redress for wrongs of this kind available to the applicant, namely diplomatic representations or an inter-State claim’ (para 50).

The decision was subsequently criticised by those who considered the international law on state immunity to preclude the engagement of Article 6(1).  It was also criticised by those who considered that if the Court was correct in its finding that Article 6(1) was engaged, then it had to analyse the impact of the restriction fully.  Read the rest of this entry…

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Jones v UK: The re-integration of State and official immunity?

Published on January 14, 2014        Author: 

Philippa Webb is Lecturer in Public International Law at King’s College London. She is the co-author, with Lady Hazel Fox QC, of the third edition of The Law of State Immunity (OUP 2013).

As regards the immunity of the State, the 6-1 decision in Jones and Others v the United Kingdom to uphold the immunity of Saudi Arabia was to be expected: in the Jurisdictional Immunities Judgment, the principal judicial organ of the UN clearly stated that that there was no exception to State immunity for jus cogens violations. The Fourth Section of the ECtHR felt no need to examine national developments in detail as the ICJ Judgment must be considered as ‘authoritative as regards the content of customary international law’ (para 198).

The razor-thin majority of the Grand Chamber in Al-Adsani 13 years ago has now been buttressed by both the ICJ and the Fourth Section of the ECtHR.

But the decision in Jones to uphold the immunity of the State officials even in the face of allegations of torture is more surprising. It stretches the meaning of the ICJ Jurisdictional Immunities Judgment and goes against two emerging trends: (1) accountability of non-high ranking State officials for serious human rights violations; (2) the diversification of various forms of immunity. Let me take these issues in turn.

Accountability of State officials for torture

As the ECtHR Chamber acknowledges (para 92), the ICJ emphasised in the Jurisdictional Immunities Judgment that it was addressing ‘only the immunity of the State itself from the jurisdiction of the courts of other States; the question of whether and to what extent immunity might apply in criminal proceedings against an official of the State is not in issue in the present case’ (para 91 of the ICJ Judgment). Yet, the ECtHR followed the ICJ’s Judgment with respect to the immunity of State officials as well as that of the State. In its 2012 Judgment, the ICJ had been silent as to immunity of a State official from civil proceedings, but it was clear that the Judgment was focused on the State itself and arguably even limited to ‘acts committed on the territory of the forum State by the armed forces of a foreign State … in the course of conducting an armed conflict’ (para 65). Read the rest of this entry…

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European Court of Human Rights Upholds State Immunity in Case Involving Allegations of Torture – Jones v United Kingdom

Published on January 14, 2014        Author: 

Today, a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has handed down its judgment in the long awaited case of Jones and others v. United Kingdom (application no. 34356/06 & 40528/06). The case concerned the UK House of Lord’s decision ([2006] UKHL 26)  to accord state immunity in civil proceedings brought in the UK, against Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabian officials, by British nationals who alleged they had been tortured in Saudi Arabia. The European Court of Human Rights has today upheld that decision of the House of Lords. The chamber of the Court held by six votes to one that the granting of immunity to Saudi Arabia and its state officials in civil proceedings reflected generally recognised rules of public international law. Therefore, dismissal of the case by the English courts on grounds of state immunity did not amount to a violation of Article 6 (1) of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees a right of access to court. In particular, the Chamber held that there was noaccess to court.

According to the Chamber, while there was some emerging support at the international level in favour of a special rule or exception in public international law in cases concerning civil claims for torture lodged a state’s right to immunity could not be circumvented by suing named officials instead. The decision picks up from where the International Court of Justice left off in Jurisdictional Immunities (Germany v. Italy) case in deciding that allegations of violations of jus cogens rules does not mean that state immunity becomes inapplicable. However, the European Court of Human Rights has also stated that in the light of the current developments in this area of public international law, this was a matter which needed to be kept under review by Contracting States.

EJIL:Talk! and Opinio Juris will be providing reactions to this decision over the coming days. Here on EJIL:Talk! Lorna McGregor (Essex University), who worked on the case while she was Legal Adviser at Redress (an NGO that helps torture survivors), and Philippa Webb (Kings College London) will discuss the case. Over at Opinio Juris,  Chimène Keitner, Bill Dodge (both at the University of California, Hastings College of Law) and Ingrid Wuerth (Vanderbilt) will provide commentary from across the pond. All of them have done brilliant work on immunity and all have written influential pieces on the relationship between immunity and human rights. A stellar line up indeed!

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Chatham House Paper on State Immunity

Published on January 9, 2014        Author: 

Readers interested in the law relating to state immunity will find the Chatham House briefing paper (from December 2013) State Immunity: Recent Developments and Prospects very useful indeed. The paper is written by Joanne Foakes, Associate Fellow at Chatham House and former Legal Counsellor at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The paper provides a really good survey of recent cases, from international and national courts, regarding state immunity. In the paper, she discusses developments regarding the exceptions to immunity in the areas of commercial transactions, human rights, employment contracts, the territorial torts (personal injury and damage to property) as well as issues relating to enforcement of foreign judgments. Throughout the paper, she seeks to identify the impact of the UN Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and their Property. The “summary points” of the paper are as follows:

  • Nearly nine years have elapsed since the adoption of the 2004 UN Convention on State Immunity. This paper considers whether the convention has increased legal certainty in this area or whether practice is as unpredictable and divergent as ever.
  • So far the convention has had little impact on countries which traditionally accord absolute immunity to other states in their courts. It is therefore too early to say whether it can succeed in its objective of enhancing legal certainty and harmonizing practice.
  • There is evidence, however, that many national and international courts such as the European Court of Human Rights are looking to the convention as a reflection of customary international law. In these circumstances there is some force in the argument that states that want to influence the way in which courts interpret the convention should become parties to it.
  • Uncertainties about the scope of the convention remain, although to some extent ’ international law so as to stop the development of an exception for serious human rights violations.
  • For the United Kingdom and other Western states with existing legislation on state immunity, the benefits and potential disadvantages of becoming party to the convention remain finely balanced.
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Prosecution of Heads of States and Other Senior Officials at the ICC: Map of the Scholarship

Published on October 14, 2013        Author: 

MerelMerel Alstein is Commissioning Editor at Oxford University Press responsible for publishing in the area of international law.

A few weeks ago, John Louth put together an index of discussions on the international law aspects of the Syria crisis, covering debates in blogs and newspaper articles. The idea behind it was that blog posts have become an important form of scholarly commentary and deserve to move away from their ephemeral status. A post that is widely read and appreciated when it publishes drops off the front page a few days later, but might still be hugely relevant to someone researching the topic months (or even years) later.

I have created a new map which looks at a number of issues surrounding the prosecution of heads of state and other senior officials at the ICC. Just like the Syria map, it sits on our Oxford Public International Law platform, together with OUP materials on the ICC that we have made freely available. Alongside topical questions like the impact of Kenya’s possible withdrawal from the Rome Statute and William Ruto’s request not to be continuously present at his trial, the map focuses on issues of immunity and third states’ obligations to arrest and surrender, which tend to come up time and time again. The map’s aim is to provide a quick overview of the relevant legal problems and controversies but also to create an archive of scholarship that can be referred back to when the ICC unseals a new arrest warrant for a head of state or when Bashir next threatens to visit another country.

Other issues relating to the ICC will be added to the map over time, just as the current sections will be expanded with new posts, articles and, eventually, books. I would very much welcome suggestions as to what is missing from the map and how it could be improved.

Our intention is to keep creating debate maps for important new developments or ongoing news stories that raise questions about international law. We would love to hear from you if you have an idea for a new map or if you would like to help us create one. You can send me an email at merel.alstein{at}oup(.)com.

 

 

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Can the United States Deny Sudanese President Bashir a Visa to Attend the UN General Assembly or Arrest Him?

Published on September 18, 2013        Author: 

The Sudanese Government has applied to the United States for a visa that will enable Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to attend the United Nations General Assembly session which starts this week (see BBC report here). The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009 and whenever he has travelled abroad since then questions have arisen as to whether the host state ought to arrest him or not. The United States is, of course, not a party to the ICC Statute and therefore does not have an obligation to arrest Bashir. With respect to the US two questions arise. First, may the US deny Bashir entry to the US given that Bashir is seeking to attend the UN General Assembly as a representative of Sudan? Second, if Bashir were to be granted a visa and permitted entry, may the US arrest him whilst there for the GA session? I foreshadowed these very issues in the final section of a an article I wrote on Bashir’s Immunities, in the 2009 volume of the Journal of International Criminal Justice. In that piece, I argued that the despite the immunity that Heads of State are ordinarily entitled to under international law, the referral of the Sudan situation to the ICC implicitly made Article 27 of the ICC Statute (which removes the  immunity of state officials) applicable to Sudan. I also argued that “Given that the Statute operates in this case not as a treaty but by virtue of a Security Council resolution it may apply even to non-parties. [Non-parties to the ICC Statute] have no obligations under the Statute to arrest  . . . [h]owever, they have the right to deny immunity as a result of the Security Council’s implicit decision to adopt Article 27” (p. 348). However, I went on to state that:

“Despite the arguments above, there is one set of immunities that may not be removed by the Security Council. These are the immunities of representatives to the United Nations” (p. 351).

After discussing the obligation of the US to confer visas to those travelling to to the US to attend meetings of the General Assembly, I concluded that:

 “ . . . if Al Bashir were bold enough he would not only have the right to represent his state at UN meetings, he would be immune from arrest were he to do so” (p. 352).

The US Obligation to Grant a Visa

The US, as host State to the United Nations has an obligation to permit representatives of member States (and other persons invited to the UN) entry to the US for the purpose of attending meetings of the principal and subsidiary organs of the United Nations. This obligation is derived from three sources which are of increasing specificity in regulating the visa issue. Read the rest of this entry…

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