Supreme Court, Touax v Touax Rom, Nr. C.13.0528.F, 9 February 2017
During the 1999 Kosovo war, two shipping companies operating boats on the Danube saw their commercial activities come to a halt because of the bombing of several bridges over the river by NATO. They turned to the Kingdom of Belgium to receive compensation for their economic losses, relying on article 1382 of the civil code. According to the claimants, Belgium’s participation in NATO’s military operation constituted a breach of the prohibition on the use of force enshrined in article 2(4) of the UN Charter and accordingly qualified as a tort.
In 2013, the Brussels Court of Appeal rejected the appeal, holding that a private person cannot invoke a violation of Article 2(4) UN Charter because the provision lacks direct effect.
The judgment was later upheld by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found that the claimants did not invoke any fact – other than the alleged breach of Article 2(4) UN Charter – of such nature as to constitute an error of conduct. It also dismissed the argument that the existence of a tort deduced from a provision of an international treaty does not require that this provision has direct effect in the internal legal order. Lastly, the Supreme Court did away with the alleged violation of the jus in bello resulting from Belgium’s participation in the bombing of non-military targets: as the bridges over the Danube constituted a military objective, their destruction could not constitute a tort.