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Home Archive for category "Diplomatic Immunity"

An Exam Question on Diplomatic and Consular Law

Published on October 7, 2018        Author: 
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Kemal, a journalist and a national of the state of Azovia, is living in the state of Tiberia. One day he goes to the Azovian consulate in Kostantiniyye, a major Tiberian city, in order to obtain a divorce certificate, which he needs to marry his current fiancee. Kemal never emerges from the consulate. A few days later, Tiberian authorities publicly claim that Kemal was murdered by Azovian agents while he was in the consulate. The Azovian government denies these allegations. Assuming that the facts asserted by Tiberia are true, answer the following questions (in doing so, bear in mind that Azovia and Tiberia are both parties to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; Tiberia is additionally a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Azovia is not):

(1) Is Azovia responsible for an internationally wrongful act or acts, and if so, which one?

(2) If Tiberia had obtained reliable intelligence that Kemal was about to be murdered in the Azovian consulate in Kostantiniyye, would it have been (i) obliged to or (ii) permitted under international law to forcibly enter the premises of the consulate in order to save Kemal’s life?

(3) Would your answer to question (2) be any different if Kemal was murdered/about to be murdered in the Azovian embassy to Tiberia, rather than in its consulate?

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Slavery in Domestic Work: The Potential for State Responsibility?

Published on September 17, 2018        Author:  and
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On 10 September 2018, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Urmila Bhoola, presented her latest report to the Human Rights Council. The report focuses on an often-hidden aspect of modern slavery – the slavery and servitude of “marginalized women workers in the global domestic economy” (para 11). In this post, we highlight key findings of the report and also indicate areas for further exploration, including the potential use of State responsibility.

11.5 million domestic workers are international migrants, which represent 17.2% of all domestic workers and 7.7% of all migrant workers worldwide (para. 31). To give a sense of the scale, in Hong Kong there are 370,000 domestic workers of which 98.8% are women.

The social, cultural and racial biases these women face are often extreme. To give an example, Sondos Alqattan, an Instagram star and makeup artist with over 2.3 million followers, criticised new laws in Kuwait giving Filipino workers one day off per week and preventing employers from seizing their passports. She said, “How can you have a servant at home who keeps their own passport with them? What’s worse is they have one day off every week”.

The UN Special Rapporteur notes that the domestic work sector accounted for 24% of forced labour exploitation in 2017 (para 43). Exploitative practices include psychological, physical and sexual violence; retention of identity documents preventing freedom of movement; withholding of wages; and excessive overtime (para 42).

There are two aspects of the Report that make a particular contribution to the discussion of slavery in domestic work. Read the rest of this entry…

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Foreign Office Certificates and Diplomatic Immunity in the Assange Affair

Published on March 2, 2018        Author:  and
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The Assange saga continues with recent decisions in the English Courts upholding the warrant for Julian Assange’s arrest. Dapo’s recent post on Ecuador’s purported appointment of Julian Assange as one of its diplomats to the UK considered the position on this issue as a matter of international law. However, a related issue is how the relevant provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) would be applied if the issue were to arise in domestic proceedings in England and Wales. In other words, if Assange were to leave the embassy, and were to be arrested and prosecuted for failing to surrender, would he be able to rely, in an English court, on diplomatic immunity under the VCDR? Thinking through this question involves a degree of speculation, for we don’t yet know what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) posture towards any such claim would be. We will assume, however, that the FCO will maintain an approach consistent with its statement (reported here) of 11 January 2018: ‘The government of Ecuador recently requested diplomatic status for Mr Assange here in the UK. The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter.’ In other words, we will assume that the FCO would not recognise Assange as a diplomat.

How the matter would be resolved in domestic English proceedings is a difficult question. It involves consideration of the respective roles of courts and the executive in matters of foreign affairs, the distinction between questions of fact and questions of law in giving effect to FCO certificates, and the potential continued application of the common law principle that the courts and the executive should speak with one voice.

The Diplomatic Privileges Act

As a matter of domestic law, the starting point is the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 (DPA), which gives effect to the VCDR. In thinking through how the Assange matter would proceed in a domestic court, Section 4, which sets out the role of the FCO in matters of this kind, is crucial:

‘If in any proceedings any question arises whether or not any person is entitled to any privilege or immunity under this Act a certificate issued by or under the authority of the Secretary of State stating any fact relating to that question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact.’

Read the rest of this entry…

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Ecuador Seeks to Confer Diplomatic Status on Julian Assange: Does this Oblige the UK to Allow Him to Leave the Embassy & Is the Matter Headed to the ICJ?

Published on January 25, 2018        Author: 
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There is a recent twist in the Julian Assange saga leading to new claims that the UK has the legal obligation to allow Assange to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London without arresting him. In December, Ecuador granted Assange its nationality following which it then purported, this January, to appoint Julian Assange as one of its diplomats to the UK (see here). Apparently, the UK rejected that appointment. It has now been reported by Reuters that a legal team is working on filing a case at the International Court of Justice in order to have Assange’s Ecuadorean diplomatic status affirmed under international law. The strategy being pursued by Ecuador is a very interesting one raising tricky questions of diplomatic law. Undoubtedly, Ecuador was aware that the UK would seek to deny diplomatic status to Assange. However, Ecuador argues that what has happened is that while it has appointed Assange as a diplomat, what the UK has done is to declare him persona non grata, and that having done that, the UK now has an obligation to allow Assange to leave the UK within a reasonable period of time, whilst enjoying diplomatic immunities within that period of time.

There are a number of issues that arise as a result of these developments. First, is the issue of whether Ecuador has a unilateral right to appoint Assange as a member of its diplomatic staff, or whether instead, the approval of the UK was required for the conferral of diplomatic status on Assange. Second, assuming that Ecuador is right, and that as a matter of international law Assange did at some point in time have diplomatic status because of a unilateral right of appointment of Ecuador, does the rejection of his status by the UK impose an obligation on the UK to allow him to leave the embassy, and indeed leave the UK, with the immunities that a diplomat would ordinarily be entitled to. Third, is there a basis for the ICJ to hear and determine the matter between those two states?

Let me start with the question of ICJ jurisdiction. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Limits of Diplomatic Immunity in the Age of Human Trafficking: The Supreme Court in Reyes v Al-Malki

Published on October 23, 2017        Author: 
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Disclaimer: The author was counsel to the Intervener, Kalayaan, a charity that supports migrant domestic workers, some of whom have been trafficked. This post is written in the author’s personal academic capacity and does not necessarily represent the views of her client.

Last week the UK Supreme Court delivered judgments in two landmark cases on immunity. This post examines the Judgment in Reyes v Al-Malki on diplomatic immunity.

There is much of interest in the Reyes Judgment – the relationship between State and diplomatic immunities, approaches to treaty interpretation (including temporal dimensions), the appeal by Lord Wilson to the International Law Commission to take this issue forward (para 68), and the Court allowing a diplomat to be served by post to their private residence (para 16). I will focus on the approach to diplomatic immunity in the context of human trafficking.

The Court decided that Mr and Mrs Al-Malki, a former member of the diplomatic staff of the Saudi embassy in London and his wife, are not entitled to immunity from the claim brought against them by Ms Reyes, a Philippine national who was their domestic servant for two months in 2011. The appeal proceeded on the basis of assumed facts. Ms Reyes alleges that she had entered the UK with a contract showing that she would be paid £500 per month by Mr Al-Malki. Instead, she says she was paid nothing. She alleges she was made to work excessive hours, had her passport confiscated, did not have proper accommodation, and was prevented from leaving the house or communicating with others (para 1). She eventually escaped.

UK Visas and Immigration had found that there were reasonable grounds for concluding that Ms Reyes was a victim of human trafficking.

The Supreme Court decided on the basis of Article 39(2) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which sets out the residual immunity enjoyed by diplomats who are no longer in post:

When the functions of a person enjoying privileges and immunities have come to an end, such privileges and immunities shall normally cease at the moment when he leaves the country, or on expiry of a reasonable period in which to do so, but shall subsist until that time, even in case of armed conflict. However, with respect to acts performed by such a person in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission, immunity shall continue to subsist. (emphasis added)

The Judges unanimously held that the employment and maltreatment of Ms Reyes were not acts performed by Mr Al-Malki ‘in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission’ and he was therefore not immune.

Another provision of the Vienna Convention – Article 31(1)(c) – had formed the centrepiece of the parties’ arguments in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. It sets out an exception to immunity for diplomats who are currently in post:

A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State. He shall also enjoy immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction, except in the case of : 

(c) an action relating to any professional or commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent in the receiving State outside his official functions. (emphasis added)

Lord Sumption wrote the lead Opinion (with which Lord Neuberger agreed), disposing of the case on the basis of Article 39(2), but also analysing Article 31(1)(c) in depth. Lord Wilson agreed with Lord Sumption’s analysis of Article 39(2), but expressed ‘doubts’ regarding his interpretation of Article 31(1)(c), with Lady Hale and Lord Clarke sharing these ‘doubts’.

We thus have a straightforward, unanimous decision on the basis of Article 39(2) applicable to former diplomats, but we also have a split within the Court on the interpretation of Article 31(1)(c), with obiter ‘doubts’ on obiter reasoning. Read the rest of this entry…

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Three New ICJ Cases Filed, Including Iran v. United States

Published on June 16, 2016        Author: 
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In some ten days the International Court of Justice got three new cases on its docket. First, on 6 June Chile instituted proceedings against Bolivia with regard to a dispute concerning the status and use of the waters of the “Silala River system.” The jurisdictional basis of the case is the compromissory clause in the Pact of Bogota, and the cases raises issues of international watercourses and environmental law.

Second, on 14 June Equatorial Guinea instituted proceedings against France with regard to the immunity from criminal jurisdiction of its Second Vice-President in charge of State Defence and Security, and the legal status of the building which houses its Embassy in France. The Guinean Vice-President is under investigation for corruption offences by French authorities, on the basis that he invested the proceeds of that corruption in France. French prosecutorial and judicial authorities have held that he has no claim to immunity. The building in question was first bought by the Vice-President and then sold by him to the Guinean Embassy; French authorities assert that it is not protected by immunity since it was bought out of the proceeds of the offences for the which the Vice-President in being prosecuted for, and is not part of the diplomatic mission. The jurisdictional basis for the case is the compromissory clauses in the protocol to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Finally, yesterday Iran instituted proceedings against the United States in a dispute concerning alleged violations of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, and on the basis of the compromissory clause in that Treaty. The case essentially concerns the alleged US failure to respect the immunity of the Iranian Central Bank/Bank Markazi and other Iranian entities, as well as other rights conferred by the Treaty (the Court will not have jurisdiction for violations of customary international law directly, but only insofar as these rules are referred to or assist in the interpretation of the provisions of the Treaty). Enforcement proceedings have been brought in the US against these Iranian entities for Iran’s involvement in terrorist activities; see more on the whole affair the previous post by Victor Grandaubert.

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A Diplomat in Name Only? Judicial Scrutiny of Diplomatic Appointments

Published on February 22, 2016        Author: 
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The English High Court has delivered two important Judgments on diplomatic immunity this month. Both cases concern the entitlement to immunity of a person claiming to be a diplomat. They reached opposite conclusions as to how far a court may inquire into whether a person is in fact acting as a diplomatic agent.

On 8 February 2016, Mr Justice Hayden in Estrada v Al-Juffali [2016] EWHC 213 (Fam) adopted (para 36) a functional test: has the person “in any real sense” taken up his appointment and discharged any responsibilities in connection with it? One week later, Mr Justice Blake in Al Attiya v Bin-Jassim Bin-Jaber Al Thani [2016] EWHC 212 (QB) rejected the functional test (para 73) and took (paras 37(i), 74-5) a formal approach: A person should be treated as a diplomatic agent if there is evidence that he has been appointed as such and that appointment has been communicated to and accepted by the FCO.

Facts: Diplomats in Name Only? 

Colourful, if not scandalous, facts underpin each case.  Read the rest of this entry…

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Immunity of Heads of State on the Retreat

Published on January 11, 2016        Author: 
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On December 31st, the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library tweeted that its most popular item of 2015 was my book entitled “Immunity of Heads of State and State Officials for International Crimes”.

The tweet immediately led to an intense controversy on Twitter and to a number of articles (here or here). Many commentators suggested that the book has been popular because diplomats were looking for ways to protect themselves or their bosses. Some also claimed that it was a poor sign for the United Nations. The news website Vox wrote: “The UN is full of delegates representing awful dictatorships, and the book that got checked out the most from the UN library was about … how to be immune from war crimes prosecution. That does not seem like a good thing!”

Numerous commentators jumped to the conclusion that the book was some sort of recipe to escape prosecution for international crimes. But in fact, rather than for criminal dictators, the book is for committed prosecutors and judges. In particular, it contains a detailed analysis of the relevant customary international law. Read the rest of this entry…

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Let the Games Continue: Immunity for War Crimes before the Italian Constitutional Court

Published on October 24, 2014        Author: 
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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.

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Was the US Entitled to Require the Departure of the (former) Indian Consul?

Published on January 13, 2014        Author: 
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For my previous posts on legal issues arising out of the diplomatic incident between the United States and India regarding arrest of the Indian Deputy Consul-General see Part I and Part II

At the end of last week, Devyani Khobragade, the Indian consul arrested in New York last month returned to India, after she was by a federal grand jury (see New York Times and Reuters).

Devyani Khobragade

Devyani Khobragade

Apparently, the US first approved India’s transfer of Ms Khobragade to the Indian mission to the UN, a move which granted her diplomatic immunity, including immunity from prosecution (as discussed in my previous posts – part I and part II). The US then requested that India waive that diplomatic immunity. When India refused that request, the US requested or demanded Ms Khobragade’s immediate departure from the US. In response, India has also requested that the US withdraw one of the members of its embassy in Delhi. Although it is an unfriendly act, it not unlawful for a receiving state to expel a diplomat or consular official of another state. Indeed, this possibility is explicitly provided for in Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Article 23 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Under both provisions, a receiving state may declare a person to be persona non grata, with the effect that the sending state is bound to recall the diplomat or consul, or to terminate their functions in the mission. There is no requirement for the receiving state to give reasons for declaring a diplomat or consul persona non grata and it may make such a declaration because of the official or private conduct of the official, or even for reasons unconnected that with particular person. So, India is within its rights to require the US to withdraw one of its embassy staff, in retaliation for the US’s request that Ms Khobragade leave the US. But was the US entitled to require her departure?

The wrinkle here is that when her departure was requested Ms Khobragade was no longer a consular official of India, accredited to the US but a representative of India to the United Nations. Representatives of states to the UN are not accredited to the US and are not exercising functions in the bilateral relations between the US and that State. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for the state of bilateral relations between the US and a particular country to affect the ability of that country’s representatives to perform their functions with regard to the UN.  The US, as host state to the UN headquarters, clearly has an interest in who is allowed into the US and who can stay in the US. However, if the US could exercise its normal sovereign prerogatives with regard to admission of non-nationals into its territory in determining which person can be admitted to act as representative of a state to the UN, the US would be entitled to determine, without legal restraint, how countries are represented at the UN and be able to affect the capacity of states to enjoy their rights as members of the UN. Read the rest of this entry…

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