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, Nr. 28 October 2020

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.

M.R. v La Posterie

Supreme Court, M.R. v La Posterie, Nr. C.16.0039.N, 28 October 2016

The Belgian Supreme Court adjudges that the immunity of jurisdiction of a member of the United States Permanent Representation to NATO (as per Article XII of the Ottawa Agreement and Articles 29-31 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR)) does not violate the right of access to court (Article 6 ECHR). In a case involving a dispute over the payment of rent arrears, the lower court had previously held that such immunity would violate the right of access to court, in light of the fact that the proceedings would “in no way compromise” the proper functioning of the US Permanent Representation or NATO itself. According to the Supreme Court, however, this approach was not legally justifiable. The Supreme Court further recalls that lawsuits regarding the lease of a private home do not fall within the exception to immunity from jurisdiction under Article 31 (1) (a) VCDR.

NML Capital Ltd v Republic of Argentina

Belgian Supreme Court, NML Capital Ltd v Republic of Argentina, Nr. C.13.0537.F, 11 December 2014

According to the Court, the right of access to court, as enshrined in Article 6 ECHR, cannot be invoked to force a State to set aside the customary rule of immunity from execution, which seeks to ensure the proper functioning of diplomatic missions and to promote friendly relations between sovereign States. The Court rejects the argument that immunity from execution must be set aside when no alternative means of legal redress are available.

V. et al v the Holy See

Ghent First Instance Tribunal, V. et al v the Holy See, Nr. 11/2648/A, 1 October 2013

Some 39 plaintiffs who claim to have been victims of sexual abuse as minors by ministers of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium, argue that in addition to the damages stemming from the abuse itself, they also suffered damages due to the church authorities’ year-long refusal or failure to acknowledge and address the problem. The Holy See objects that the Court has no jurisdiction to adjudicate the claims against it as it enjoys immunity from jurisdiction.

The plaintiffs argue that the Holy See can only enjoy state immunity in its capacity as the government of Vatican City State, but not when it is sued ‘on behalf of the Pope’ in a civil court as the government of the Roman Catholic Church. The Court, however, rejects this argument as it would undo the de facto recognition of the Holy See as foreign sovereign by the Belgian State. The Court, moreover, dismisses the argument by the plaintiffs that the alleged policy errors of the Holy See were ‘acta jure gestionis’ for which it cannot rely on immunity from jurisdiction. The Court also confirms that the invocation of such immunity from jurisdiction does not entail a violation of the plaintiffs’ right of access to justice under the ECHR.

Secretariat of the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP Group) v B.D.

Supreme Court, ACP Group v B.D., Nr. C.07.0407.F, 21 December 2009

In its judgment of 21 December 2009, the Belgian Supreme Court rejects an appeal by the Secretariat of the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (the ACP Group), in which it claimed that the Brussels Court of Appeal had disregarded its immunity from execution in contravention of Protocol No. 3 to the Lomé IV Convention. According to the Supreme Court, provisions granting immunity to international organizations normally do not constitute an impermissible restriction of Article 6 ECHR. However, the proportionality of these restrictions must be examined on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the availability of alternative means of redress for the person against whom the immunity is invoked. In the present case, the contested judgment had found that no such alternative means of redress were present. Accordingly, the contested judgment had duly motivated why the immunity from execution as invoked by the ACP Group was incompatible with Article 6.1 ECHR.