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Immunity Ratione Materiae of State Officials from Foreign Criminal Jurisdiction: Where is the State Practice in Support of Exceptions?

  • Sean D. Murphy (a1)
Extract

In the summer of 2017, the UN International Law Commission adopted Draft Article 7 and an associated draft annex for its project on immunity of state officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction. The draft article identifies six “crimes under international law in respect of which immunity ratione materiae shall not apply”: genocide; crimes against humanity; war crimes; crime of apartheid; torture; and enforced disappearance. Given the divergences within the Commission when considering and adopting Draft Article 7 (as evidenced by the plenary debate in 2016 and 2017, the unusual recorded vote on whether to refer the matter to the Commission's drafting committee, and the Commentary), it is difficult to conclude that the Commission is expressing a view that Draft Article 7 reflects lex lata.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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1 See Int'l Law Comm'n, Report on the Work of Its Sixty-Ninth Session, UN Doc. A/72/10 (Sept. 11, 2017) [hereinafter 2017 Report].

2 For a discussion of the process leading up to adoption of Draft Article 7 and its Commentary, see Sean D. Murphy, Crimes against Humanity and Other Topics: The Sixty-Ninth Session of the International Law Commission, 111 AJIL 970 (2017).

3 The Commission's current project on identification of customary international law indicates that the “relevant practice must be general, meaning that it must be sufficiently widespread and representative, as well as consistent.” See Int'l Law Comm'n, Report on the Work of Its Sixty-Eighth Session, UN Doc. A/71/10 (Sept.19, 2016) (Draft Conclusion 8(1)).

4 2017 Report, supra note 1, at 178-91 (Commission's Commentary to Draft Article 7 and the associated draft annex).

5 Concepción Escobar Hernández (Special Rapporteur for Immunity of State Officials from Foreign Criminal Jurisdisction), Fifth Report, UN Doc. A/CN.4/701 (June 14, 2016) [hereinafter Fifth Report].

6 For the lengthy footnotes, see 2017 Report, supra note 1, at 179-80 nn.762-64. For a critique of those footnotes by some members, see id. at 181-82 nn.765-68.

7 The six national laws referenced in the Commission's commentary, id. at 179-80 n.763, and in the Fifth Report, supra note 5, at para. 58 n.144, that expressly address immunity ratione materiae of a foreign state official from criminal jurisdiction for the crime of genocide are those of Burkina Faso, Comoros, Ireland, Mauritius, South Africa, and Spain. Other statutes listed in the Commission's Commentary or in the Fifth Report address state (not individual) immunity, address procedures in relation to the surrender of an individual to the International Criminal Court (not prosecution in a national court), or do not expressly deny immunity.

8 The Commission's Commentary concedes that national laws addressing the issue constitute “rare cases.” 2017 Report, supra note 1, at 179. Likewise, the Fifth Report accepts that “[i]mmunity of the State or of its officials from jurisdiction is not explicitly regulated in most States. On the contrary, the response to immunity has been left to the courts.” Fifth Report, supra note 5, at para. 42.

9 2017 Report, supra note 1, at 179 n.762; Fifth Report, supra note 5, at para. 114 n.230 (citing to H.S.A. v. S.A. (Ariel Sharon) (Belgium), a judgment rendered prior to the 2003 amendment to Belgium's statute).

10 The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, art. 4, Dec. 9, 1948, 78 UNTS 277, is silent on the issue. Article IV addresses substantive criminal responsibility, but not procedural immunity. See Prosecutor v. Al-Bashir, Case No. ICC-02/05-01/09, Decision Under Article 87(7) of the Rome Statute on the Non-Compliance by South Africa with the Request by the Court for the Arrest and Surrender of Omar Al-Bashir para. 109 (July 6, 2017).

11 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, art. 27(2), July 17, 1998, 2187 UNTS 90, addresses the lack of immunity of state officials before the International Criminal Court, not the immunity of state officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction.

12 See the six national laws referenced supra note 7. The Fifth Report also cited to a seventh national law, that of Nigeria. See Fifth Report, supra note 5, para. 56.

13 2017 Report, supra note 1, at 179 n.762; Fifth Report, supra note 5, at para. 114 n.230 (again citing to H.S.A. v. S.A. (Ariel Sharon) (Belgium)). The Fifth Report also cited to the Eichmann case (Israel). Fifth Report, supra note 5, at para. 114, n.233.

14 Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Dem. Rep. Congo v. Belg.), 2002 ICJ Rep. 3, para. 62 (Feb. 14) (“Provided that it has jurisdiction under international law, a court of one State may try a former Minister for Foreign Affairs of another State in respect of acts committed prior or subsequent to his or her period of office, as well as in respect of acts committed during that period of office in a private capacity.”).

15 See the six national laws referenced supra note 7.

16 2017 Report, supra note 1, at 179 n.762; Fifth Report, supra note 5, at para. 114 n.230 (citing to H.S.A. v. S.A. (Ariel Sharon) (Belgium); H. v. Public Prosecutor, Hoge Raad (Netherlands); Lozano v. Italy (Italy); A. v. Office of the Public Prosecutor (Switzerland)). The Fifth Report also cited to the Eichmann case. Fifth Report, supra note 5, at n.233.

17 Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000, supra note 14, at para. 78.

18 Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (Ger. v. It.), 2012 ICJ Rep. 99, para. 139 (Feb. 2); see Kalogeropoulou v. Greece & Ger., 2002-X Eur. Ct. H.R. 1. The Commission's Commentary seeks to draw support for Draft Article 7 from some national laws on state immunity from civil actions, such as the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). See 2017 Report, supra note 1, at 179 n.763. The FSIA, however, does not contain as exceptions to state immunity any of the exceptions appearing in Draft Article 7.

19 The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, Nov. 30, 1973, 1015 UNTS 243, is silent on the issue. Article III provides that “[i]nternational criminal responsibility shall apply … to … representatives of the State, whether residing in the territory of the State in which the acts are perpetrated or in some other State.” As was the case for the Convention against Genocide, supra note 10, Article III addresses substantive criminal responsibility of the individual, not his or her procedural immunity from foreign criminal jurisdiction.

20 2017 Report, supra note 1, at 179 n.762; Fifth Report, supra note 5, at para. 114 n.230 (citing to R. v. Bow St. Metro. Stipendiary Magistrate, ex parte Pinochet Ugarte (No. 3), [1999] UKHL 17 [hereinafter referred to as Ex parte Pinochet]; Re Pinochet (Belgium); H. v. Public Prosecutor (Netherlands); In re Bouterse (Netherlands); FF v. Director of Public Prosecutions (Prince Nasser case) (United Kingdom)). The Fifth Report also cites to the Fujimori case, Fifth Report, supra note 5, at para. 114 n.230, which did not involve a foreign state official.

21 The UK cases were based on the view that by ratifying the Convention against Torture, states parties implicitly agreed to waive immunity; indeed, it was decided that extradition could not be based on crimes allegedly committed before the convention entered into force between the United Kingdom and Chile, when only customary international law would apply.

22 One of these cases was subsequently overturned on jurisdictional grounds on appeal, with the reasoning of the lower court remaining an untested obiter dictum. See Case No. A07178 (Rotterdam Dist. Ct. Apr. 7, 2004), 2001 Neth. Y.B. Int'l L. 282.

23 Jones v. UK, 2014 Eur. Ct. H.R. 176; Al-Adsani v. UK, 2001-XI Eur. Ct. H.R. 761.

24 The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Dec. 10, 1984, 1465 UNTS 85, is silent on the issue. The Convention defines the crime of torture as being committed by “a public official or other person acting in an official capacity,” and then obligates states parties to exercise jurisdiction over an offender who turns up in its territory.

Such provisions have prompted some national court judges to assert that adherence to the Convention against Torture essentially constitutes a waiver by the state party of the immunity of its officials. See, e.g., Ex parte Pinochet, supra note 20, at para. 55 (opinion of Lord Browne-Wilkinson) (holding that the object and purpose of the Convention against Torture to prevent safe havens for torturers would be defeated if immunity from foreign criminal jurisdiction was not lifted for a former President of Chile); Fang v. Jiang Zemin, [2007] NZAR 420 (N.Z.) (finding the Convention contained an implicit waiver of immunity from foreign criminal jurisdiction for former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China). Other national courts, however, have not accepted this interpretation. See, e.g., Zhang v. Jiang Zemin, [2010] NSWCA 225 (Australia) (finding the Convention did not contain an implicit waiver of immunity with respect to allegations of torture against the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China).

25 Spain's statute, supra note 7.

26 Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, June 9, 1994, 33 I.L.M. 1429. Article IX reads, in relevant part: “Privileges, immunities, or special dispensations shall not be admitted in such trials, without prejudice to the provisions set forth in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”

28 See Draft International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, art. 10(2), UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1998/19, annex (Aug. 19, 1998) (“No privileges, immunities or special exemptions shall be granted in such trials, subject to the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”).

29 Australia, Austria, Belarus, Chile, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway (on behalf of the five Nordic countries), Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam. The written statements can be accessed at Sixth Committee, 72nd Session, UNMeetings.

30 2017 Report, supra note 1, at 178-80, para. (5).

31 Id. at 181, para. (6).

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