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.
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.
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.
Brussels Labour Court of Appeal, Sipos Szabo v North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Kingdom of Belgium, 2018/AB/22, 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.
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.