Ghent First Instance Tribunal, X v Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Nr. 18/3932/A, 17 October 2022
A Belgian businesswoman sought compensation from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, claiming in particular that an official press release, in which she had been presented as being unreliable, had caused her financial and moral damage. The Court held, however, that the passing on of information on the applicant by the Saudi Embassy in Belgium to the Saudi Ministry of Trade and Industry constituted an act ‘jure imperii’, benefiting from State immunity. By reference to Article 12 of the 2004 UN Convention on State Immunity and the preparatory works of the International Law Commission, the Court further held that the ‘territorial tort’ exception does not apply to reputational damage and was accordingly inapplicable. In turn, the publication of a press release on the applicant within Saudi Arabia did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Belgian courts.
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.
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.
Liège First Instance Tribunal, X, Nr. 20/770/B, 5 February 2021
The Tribunal assessed wether a man of Palestinian origin, as well as his underage children, could be recognized as stateless persons. According to the Tribunal, the inconsistent Belgian case-law on the question whether Palestine qualified as a State rendered it necessary to refer to the position of the organ constitutionally competent in the matter, i.e., the Belgian federal government. In light of the government’s refusal to recognize Palestine as a State, any attempt at indirect recognition of Palestinian statehood by the judiciary was in vain. The Tribunal accordingly confirmed the applicants should be regarded as being stateless in the sense of the 1954 New York Convention.
Antwerp First Instance Tribunal, Prosecutor v A.S., N.N. et al, Nr. 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.