Labour Prosecutor et al. v X and X

Brussels First Instance Tribunal, Labour Prosecutor et al. v X et al., Nr. 21.N.003187, 15 December 2021

A former diplomat and his wife are condemned in absentia for the crimes of human trafficking and unlawful imprisonment on account of their exploitation of a domestic worker. The Tribunal asserts that, pursuant to Article 39 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a diplomat whose function has come to an end enjoys immunity only in respect of those acts that were performed in the exercise of this function. The exploitation of domestic workers in the diplomat’s private residence does not qualify as such, and is accordingly not covered by diplomatic immunity.

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.


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.


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.


Federal Prosecutor, Republic of Turkey and F.A. v U.S., K.R. et al.

Council Chamber of the Tribunal of First Instance, Federal Prosecutor, Republic of Turkey and F.A. v U.S, K.R. et al., 3 November 2016

The Council Chamber of the Tribunal of First Instance adjudges that the PKK should be considered as a non-State armed group that is party to a non-international armed conflict with the Turkish State under international humanitarian law (IHL). In accordance with the IHL exclusion clause of Article 141bis of the Belgian Criminal Code, this qualification entails that the 42 defendants cannot be prosecuted for ‘terrorist offences’ in connection with their involvement in that conflict as members of the PKK.
In order to establish the intensity and degree of organization required to conclude to the existence of a non-international armed conflict, the Chamber (implicitly) draws from a range of factors, including: the PKK’s armed activities since 1984, the high number of these activities, the use of heavy weapons, the existence of a chain of command, the position of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the formal initiative undertaken by the PKK to comply with international conventions, the territorial control of the PKK over parts of South-East of Turkey (as demonstrated by a call for armistice by the PKK leader in 2013), as well as the conduct of negotiations between the PKK and Turkey.