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L., M. et al. v Kingdom of Belgium

Brussels First Instance Tribunal, L., M. et al. v Kingdom of Belgium, Nr. 20/4655/A, 8 December 2021

This case revolves around a claim issued by 5 people with Congolese roots against the Belgian state in connection with Belgium’s colonial past in Belgian Congo, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All claimants had been committed into a religious institute and hence separated from their family as children between 1948 and 1961. At the time, placing Métis (mixed-race parentage) children  in religious institutes was routine practice. The claimants’ position that this segregation epitomized a crime against humanity, based on which they were entitled to compensation, was, however, held to be unfounded. Having regard to the principle of legality, the Tribunal rather found that the placement of people in such religious institutions for racial reasons did not amount to a crime against humanity at the time. Acknowledging that the concept of crimes against humanity had gradually broadened over time, however, the court added that if these actions were to occur today, they would likely be seen as such.


B.A.M. v Republic of Indonesia

Brussels Labour Court of Appeals, B.A.M. v Republic of Indonesia, Nr. 2018/AB/868, 2 November 2021

The plaintiff, a former member of the service staff at the Indonesian embassy in Brussels, was challenging his dismissal. Affirming the appealed judgment, the Brussels Labour Court of Appeals upheld Indonesia’s State immunity from jurisdiction. With a view to determining the applicable rules of customary international law, the Court relied upon the United Nations Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Property. More specifically, it focused on Article 11(2)(e), which maintains the immunity where the employee is a national of the employer State – the plaintiff had indeed Indonesian citizenship. The Court considered that the limitation in Article 11(2)(e), that sets immunity aside where the employee has its permanent residence in the State of the forum, does not reflect an existing rule of customary international law. The Court went on to add that, in any event, the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate a permanent residence in Belgium at the time when the proceedings were instituted.


Prosecutor v A.S., N.N. et al.

Antwerp First Instance Tribunal, Prosecutor v A.S., N.N. et al, 20/A/3763, 4 February 2021

The Tribunal of First Instance imposes heavy prison sentences on four individuals of Iranian origin, including an diplomat accredited to the Iranian embassy in Austria, for planning a terrorist attack. The Tribunal finds that the diplomat cannot invoke immunity from jurisdiction under Article 31 VCDR, since this only applies in the bilateral relationship between the sending and the receiving State. In addition, the diplomat was not in transit in the sense of Article 40 VCDR. This provision must be read restrictively, and does not extend to situations where a diplomat is on a holiday abroad. The Tribunal also observes that the activities of which the diplomat is accused cannot form part of the normal diplomatic function, and that it cannot have been the intention of the States parties to the VCDR for such acts to be covered by diplomatic immunity.

According to the Tribunal, the immunity of Iran itself is not triggered since Iran or its secret service are not a party to the proceedings. With respect to the residual functional immunity of the diplomat as a State organ, the Tribunal asserts that such immunity extends only to acts performed in the exercise of official functions. The planning of a terrorist attack can be presumed not to be part of such tasks. Nor did Iran claim responsibility for this conduct. In any case, the Tribunal finds it difficult to accept that there is an exception to State immunity for commercial acts, but not for crimes against humanity that flout the basic right to life.


Sipos Szabo v NATO and the Kingdom of Belgium

Brussels Labour Court of Appeal, Sipos Szabo v North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Kingdom of Belgium, 2018/AB/22, 28 October 2020
ECLI:BE:CTBRL:2019:ARR.20190207.11 

The case concerned a medical doctor who claimed an entitlement under NATO’s Civilian Personnel Regulation (CPR) to an indefinite contract and had brought its claims before NATO’s Administrative Tribunal. NATO’s Tribunal ruled it had no jurisdiction to entertain the claims because the plaintiff concluded successive sui generis contracts that NATO was entitled to offer. Those contracts did not bring the plaintiff within the realm of the CPR, while the jurisdiction of NATO’s Tribunal is limited to alleged breaches of the CPR. The plaintiff brought her claims before Belgian courts, host nation of NATO, and argued on the basis of ECtHR case-law relating to the interplay between the right to a judge and International Organizations’ immunity that NATO’s immunity must be set aside because she did not have access to an effective remedy within NATO’s legal system as NATO’s Tribunal declared itself without jurisdiction and arguably did not consider the merits of her claims. NATO’s immunity was upheld before Brussels’ Labour Tribunal and, on appeal, by the Brussels Labour Court of Appeal which agreed with NATO that the plaintiff’s argument was based on a wrong premise, that NATO’s internal justice system was effective and independent, that the plaintiff was heard and received an articulated legal answer to her claims following due process.


A. et al v Kingdom of Belgium

Brussels First Instance Tribunal, A. et al v Kingdom of Belgium, Nr. 2020-14-C, 29 April 2020

This case concerns a man who travelled to Syria in 2013 and who was detained in the prison of Al-Hasakah by the Syrian-Kurdish authorities. Relying on several human rights and humanitarian treaties, the man claimed that the Belgian government was under an obligation to repatriate him from Syria. The Tribunal nonetheless held that the applicant was not within the ‘jurisdiction’ of the Belgian State, and that he could also not rely on the Geneva Conventions or the ICC Rome Statute since Belgium was not a party to the armed conflict in Syria. The Tribunal further held that, having travelled to Syria on his own initiative, the applicant was not entitled to consular assistance pursuant to Article 83 of the Belgian Consular Code.