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.
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.
Supreme Court, Russian Federation v Godeau Finances, Nr. C.18.0282.F/1, 6 December 2019
The Supreme Court addresses a case by the Brussels Court of Appeal between a Belgian Real Estate company and the Russian Federation. The company sought compensation after the Russian Federation renounced the acquisition of a set of real estate properties intended for the housing of personnel of its Permanent Mission to the EU.
The Supreme Court confirms that State immunity from jurisdiction is a rule of customary international law which only applies to acts performed in the exercise of public authority (‘acta jure imperii’) and not to ‘acta jure gestionis’. In order to determine whether an act is done in the exercise of a State’s public authority, the nature of the act and the capacity in which the State has intervened, and the context in which the act was performed must be taken into account.
The Supreme Court finds that, by relying exclusively on the nature or form of the acts of the Russian Federation’s Permanent Mission to the EU in order to determine that they constituted acta jure gestionis, without examining the quality in which the applicant intervened having regard to the context in which the acts were undertaken, the Court of Appeal infringed customary international law. Consequently, the judgement is annulled.
Supreme Court, United States of America v P.V.N., Nr. S.15.0051.N/2, 4 March 2019
The Belgian Supreme Court examines a judgement of the Brussels Labour Court of Appeal. The case concerns a dispute involving an employment contract between the USA and a private person, P.V.N., who worked for the US embassy in Belgium and demanded compensation after being dismissed in 2010.
The Supreme Court holds that, according to international customary law and, as provided by Article 11(1) of the 2004 Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and their Property, a foreign state can only invoke immunity from jurisdiction in the context of employment disputes when a number of criteria are met, including that a person must be appointed for the performance of certain acts performed in the exercise of public authority (‘acta jure imperii’).
The Brussels Court of Appeal previously established that, while the defendant performed certain preparatory acts with regard to acts involving the exercise of public authority, he did not have the authority to sign and bind the USA. Consequently, such acts could not of themselves be considered to entail the exercise of public authority for which immunity from jurisdiction can be invoked. The Supreme Court confirms that the judgement of the Court of Appeal was properly motivated.
Brussels Court of Appeal, M.-N. F. et al. v M.L. et al., Nr. 2011 AR 292, 8 June 2018
In the early days of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, an estimated 2.000 men, women and children were massacred when a Belgian contingent of the UNAMIR peacekeeping operation abandoned the school facility where these persons had sought refuge. In the appeals procedure brought by the Belgian government as well as three former officers of the Belgian ‘KIBAT’ contingent against a prior interlocutory judgment, the Brussels Court of Appeal examined to whom the conduct of KIBAT may be imputed. In so doing, the Court affirms that responsibility for the conduct of UN peacekeepers can shift from the United Nations to the Troop-Contributing Country (TCC) if the latter exercises effective control over its national troops. The Court further draws a comparison with the conduct of the Dutch UNPROFOR battalion in the Mothers of Srebrenica proceedings in the Netherlands, but finds that the circumstances are different. In particular, it has not been established that the KIBAT soldiers left the ‘ETO’ school facility pursuant to the decision of the Belgian Government to withdraw from the UNAMIR operation. According to the Court, the imputability of the conduct of KIBAT did not transfer to the Kingdom of Belgium, as the UN retained effective control over its own troops. Consequently, the Belgian officers who gave the order to withdraw from the ETO school facility did so in their capacity as members of UNAMIR and enjoyed immunity from jurisdiction, whereas the claims brought against the Kingdom of Belgium were unfounded.
T. RUYS, L. FERRO, "Wie is verantwoordelijk voor het optreden van VN-blauwhelmen? De Rwandese genocide en de Belgische terugtrekking uit de Ecole Technique Officielle Don Bosco", Rechtskundig Weekblad 2020, Vol. 83, 1516-1519.
T. RUYS, "Mukeshimana-Ngulinzira and Others v. Belgium and Others", American Journal of International Law 2020, Vol. 114, 268-275.