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, 28 October 2020
ECLI:BE:CTBRL:2019:ARR.20190207.11 

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.


N.A. v African Union

Brussels Labourt Court, N.A. v African Union, Nr. 16/7777/A, 10 January 2018

The plaintiff, who had worked for the Permanent Mission of the African Union in Brussels based on successive short-term contracts, was disputing the termination of his appointment. The Brussels Labour Court upheld the African Union’s immunity from jurisdiction pursuant to a 1985 headquarters agreement concluded with Belgium. The plaintiff had sought to challenge the immunity based on the individual’s right of access to a court (Art. 6 ECHR). However, the Court held that neither the African Union nor its Member States are bound by the ECHR; that the Belgian State, by approving the headquarters agreement and the immunity it provides for, had intended to depart from Article 6 of the (previously ratified) ECHR; and that, at any rate, the restriction on the plaintiff’s right of access to a court was not disproportionate since he had several reasonable alternative remedies available to him – including an appeal before the African Union’s Administrative Tribunal – which he refrained from using.


Western European Union v S. M.

Belgian Supreme Court, Western European Union v S. M., Nr. S.04.0129.F, 21 December 2009
ECLI:BE:CASS:2009:ARR.20091221.7

The assertion that immunity is on the same level as the ECHR, which considers access to the courts to be a fundamental right, must be made with the necessary caution. The international organisation is an actor of international law, whereas the proper administration of justice takes place -in principle- within the State. Moreover, international organisations are not party to international instruments such as the ECHR. Of course, this does not mean that the principles contained in international human rights treaties are not applicable to international organisations. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court is of the opinion that the judge who establishes that a conflict has arisen between two norms of international law that also apply in the internal legal order (access to the courts and immunity) and that are invoked respectively by the parties in the dispute, may not give precedence to one norm over the other.


League of Arab States v T. M.

Belgian Supreme Court, League of Arab States v T.M., Nr. S.99.0103.F/1, 12 March 2001
ECLI:BE:CASS:2001:ARR.20010312.8

The Supreme Court ruled that international norms (in casu the immunity from jurisdiction of an international organisation) can only be part of the internal legal order once they bind the Belgian state. In this case, although there was a headquarters agreement between Belgium and the League of Arab States, this agreement had not (yet) been ratified by the Federal Parliament (Chamber of Representatives). The Belgian Constitution states in art. 167 that treaties only come into effect after they have received the assent of the Chamber of Representatives. Although the Community Parliaments had already accepted the ratification, this was not yet the case for the federal Parliament. Consequently, the immunity plea was rejected, since no rights could be derived from a ‘treaty’ that was not ratified by the federal parliament. Rights could not be derived from a treaty that did not meet the (full) requirements of ratification. The League made another attempt by referring to the 1986 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties between States and International Organisations or between International Organisations to support the immunity exception. This treaty, however, still lacked the number of ratifications required for its entry into force. Also, the reasoning of the League that the immunity of international organisations would constitute a general principle of law was not accepted.