[Sean D. Murphy is the Patricia Roberts Harris Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School. He is a member of the United Nations' International Law Commission.]
For the next two weeks, the Sixth Committee of the U.N. General Assembly will be debating the Annual Report of the International Law Commission, covering its 65th session in Geneva held during the summer of 2013, as well as the Commission’s Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties (which could not be debated last year due to Hurricane Sandy). Both the 2013 Annual Report and the Guide to Practice may be found at http://www.un.org/law/ilc. Further, those interested in watching the debate live can do so on U.N. TV at http://webtv.un.org/ . Finally, in due course, summary and some verbatim records should be available at the U.N. PaperSmart portal, which is at http://papersmart.unmeetings.org. This posting will focus on the issues discussed in the 2013 Annual Report.
First, the Commission made progress in addressing the immunity of state officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction by adopting preliminarily three draft articles in what is expected to be a series of draft articles. Draft article 1 indicates the basic scope of the project (immunity of state officials from the criminal jurisdiction of another state) and makes clear that the articles are “without prejudice to the immunity from criminal jurisdiction enjoyed under special rules of international law, in particular by persons connected with diplomatic missions, consular posts, special missions, international organizations and military forces of a State.” Draft Article 2 on definitions is being held in abeyance until further along in the project, but Draft Article 3 indicates that: “Heads of State, Heads of Government and Ministers for Foreign Affairs enjoy immunity ratione personae from the exercise of foreign criminal jurisdiction.” By identifying these three persons (sometimes referred to as “the Troika”) as entitled to status-based immunity, the Commission is differing from dicta of the International Court of Justice in the Arrest Warrant (D.R.C. v. Belgium) case, where the Court suggested a potentially broader sweep for the immunity. There the Court asserted in paragraph 51 of the 2002 judgment that “it is firmly established that, as also diplomatic and consular agents, certain holders of high-ranking office in a State, such as the Head of State, Head of Government and Minister for Foreign Affairs, enjoy immunities from jurisdiction in other States, both civil and criminal.” Draft article 4 asserts that immunity ratione personaes is enjoyed only during those three officials’ term of office, that it covers all acts performed (whether in a private or official capacity), and that the cessation of the immunity thereafter is without prejudice to the application of the rules of international law concerning immunity ratione materiae. The Commission will now await the special rapporteur’s subsequent reports, in which she will explore immunity ratione materiae, possible exceptions to immunity, and procedural matters, with associated draft articles and commentary.
Second, the Commission adopted five draft “conclusions” in what is expected to be a series of conclusions on the topic “subsequent agreements and subsequent practice in relation to the interpretation of treaties.” Draft conclusion 1 basically situates the topic within the rules on treaty interpretation set forth in Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), and stresses that the “interpretation of a treaty consists of a single combined operation, which places appropriate emphasis on the various means of interpretation indicated, respectively, in articles 31 and 32.” Where the subsequent agreements and practice establish agreement among all the parties to the treaty, it “shall be taken into account” under VCLT Article 31(3), whereas “recourse may be had” to other subsequent practice in the application of the treaty as a “supplementary means “of interpretation under VCLT Article 32. Notably, draft conclusion 1 confirms the status of Articles 31 and 32 as customary international law.
Draft conclusion 2 indicates that… (Continue Reading)