As Riccardo Pavone surmised last March, the ICJ judgment in Jurisdictional Immunities (here) has not been the last word in the matter of reparations for the forced labour of Italian prisoners of war in Germany. As reported by Christian Tams (here), the Italian Constitutional Court (here) has found the provisions adopted by Italy to implement the ICJ’s judgment contrary to the Italian Constitution, more precisely to the guarantee of access to a court. Those provisions had been meant to oblige Italian courts to follow the judgment of the ICJ, which required those courts to extend jurisdictional immunity to a foreign State (ie Germany) also for actions which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity violating inviolable human rights.
International lawyers typically think that when a case deals with a matter of international law, once you know the position under international law, then this will give you the answer. Unfortunately, before domestic courts, that is not always the case. Late last month, the Canadian Supreme Court issued its judgment in Kazemi Estate v. Islamic Republic of Iran  SCC 62 (the Quebec Superior Court Judgment was discussed on the blog here). The case, following on the Ontario Court of Appeal’s earlier judgment in Bouzari, serves as a stark reminder that the application of international legal principles in domestic proceedings will frequently be governed or mediated by domestic legislation, which often reflects domestic priorities in addition to international principles. The role that international law should play in such cases, as either a source or a means of interpretation, may be contested. The Kazemi v Iran Judgment is the latest instalment in a series of important domestic court decisions on the law of State immunity.
Ms. Zahra Kazemi was a Canadian citizen and freelance photographer and journalist who died in custody in Iran in 2003, following her detention, torture and sexual assault in prison The authorities refused to return her body to Canada and buried her in Iran. Although a domestic investigation reported links between the Iranian authorities and her torture and death, only one person was charged and he was acquitted after a trial which lacked transparency.
Seeking justice for his mother’s death, Ms. Kazemi’s son, Mr. Stephan Hashemi, sued the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei (Iran’s Head of State), Mr. Mortazavi (Chief Public Prosecutor of Tehran), and Mr. Bakhshi (former Deputy Chief of Intelligence at the prison where Ms. Kazemi was detained), claiming damages for his mother’s suffering and death, and for the emotional and psychological harm that this caused him. Predictably, the defendants sought to dismiss the motion based on claims of state immunity, which is implemented in Canada by the State Immunity Act (SIA). This challenge ultimately reached the Supreme Court of Canada, Read the rest of this entry…
English Court of Appeal rejects De Facto Immunity for UK officials & Act of State Doctrine in Torture Claims
Following a number of high profile but ultimately failed inquiries into the UK’s ‘complicity’ in US extraordinary rendition, some further light may be shed on the matter by the UK courts. Such is the significance of the judgment given last week by the English Court of Appeal in Belhaj & Anor v Jack Straw & Ors  EWCA Civ 1394, which reversed the decision of Simon J to strike out claims brought by Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar against a number of UK officials for their alleged involvement in their unlawful abduction, detention and renditions. The claimants alleged that they were unlawfully detained and mistreated in China, Malaysia, Thailand and Libya, and on board a US registered aircraft, by agents of those states. Documents uncovered after the fall of Gaddafi allegedly show the complicity of UK officials in the kidnap of Belhaj and his then pregnant wife, Boudchar, and their rendition back to Libya. In a thorough and careful judgment, the Court of Appeal (Lord Dyson MR, Lloyd Jones and Sharp LLJ) held that the claims are not barred by state immunity and, while they did engage the act of state doctrine, the claims fell within the public policy limitation applicable in cases of violation of international law and fundamental rights.
Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court has been granted only in relation to the act of state doctrine. Whatever the Supreme Court decides to do, this judgment marks another bold stand for the rule of law in the context of events arising from the so-called global war on terror, as well as providing further clarification on the scope of both doctrines.
State immunity: indirect impleader
Seemingly emboldened by the recent decision of the European Court of Justice in Jones v the United Kingdom, the Respondents sought to argue that state immunity may be invoked where, as in the present case, the claims necessarily require findings of illegality in respect of the acts of foreign officials for which they could claim immunity if they had been sued directly. It was argued that the claims indirectly implead the states concerned because they affect their interests and that, accordingly, state immunity applies to bar the claims.
Interestingly, the Respondents sought to derive support for this submission from the reference to both “rights” and “interests” in Article 6(2)(b) of the UN Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of State and their Property, which they argued has the effect that a state is indirectly impleaded where its interests are affected in a broad sense. In its judgment, the Court cited academic commentary in support of the contention that the final words of Article 6(2)(b) should be given a limited reading, such that “interests” of states is confined to legal interests as opposed to interests in some more general sense Read the rest of this entry…
The issue is important, no doubt – to what extent do rules of immunity apply in respect of grave violations of international law? Over the past two decades, it has been addressed by lawmakers, the ILC, international and national courts in cases like Al Adsani, Jones, Bouzari and others – and of course in hundreds of articles, notes and books. In fact, few other questions have prompted as much intense debate in the literature. As the number of plausible arguments and approaches is finite (jus cogens, implied waiver, etc.), there was bound to be duplication and repetition. (Was I the only one gradually tiring of the debate?)
In any event, the ICJ’s judgment in Jurisdictional Immunities of early 2012 seemed to settle matters: immunity could be invoked in respect of war crimes, said the Court; jus cogens was not at issue; immunity had to be assessed as a preliminary matter and irrespective of the gravity of the allegations; grave violations could still be acts iure imperii; the territorial tort exception did not apply etc. In terms of international legal process, this seemed to show the Court at its strongest, acting as supreme arbiter in long-standing debates about the proper understanding of the law, and by virtue of its authority clarifying the state of international law. ‘At last we have certainty’ wrote Andrea Bianchi on EJIL:Talk! . And in 2013, Italy passed legislation implementing the ICJ judgment.
Two and a half years on, it’s clear that the matter remains a live one. The ECHR’s judgment in Jones seemed to accept the authority of the ICJ’s decision, but raised questions about the scope of personal immunities. (See Philippa Webb’s post). And in the past few weeks, things have accelerated. Two weeks ago, the High Court of England and Wales decided that a Bahraini prince is not immune from prosecution for torture allegations.
But that, it seems, was no more than the prologue: Because on Wednesday, the Italian Constitutional Court seems to have gone much further. It has quashed the Italian legislation implementing the 2012 judgment, which in its view violates constitutional provisions. The ICJ’s decision is duly addressed, but not followed. As my Italian is rudimentary (and as I have yet to find a translation of the decision), I will not even begin to discuss the merits and arguments set forward. All I want to do at this stage is draw readers’ attention to it. And suggest we all prepare for yet another round of debates about how to strike the balance between human rights and immunity. ‘Certainty at last?’ You wish.
UPDATE: Here is an English summary of the judgment, provided by Francesco Messineo, Honorary Research Fellow at Kent Law School.
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…
André 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…
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…
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-Adsani. In 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…
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…