Functional immunity of state officials

Notion(s) Filing Case
Judgement on Request of Croatia for Review - 29.10.1997 BLAŠKIĆ Tihomir
(IT-95-14-AR108 bis)

41. […] The general rule under discussion is well established in international law and is based on the sovereign equality of States (par in parem non habet imperium). The few exceptions relate to one particular consequence of the rule. These exceptions arise from the norms of international criminal law prohibiting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Under these norms, those responsible for such crimes cannot invoke immunity from national or international jurisdiction even if they perpetrated such crimes while acting in their official capacity. […]

See also para. 38.

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Decision on Subpoena Application - 01.07.2003 KRSTIĆ Radislav

26.     The reasoning of the Appeals Chamber in the Blaškić Subpoena Decision is that, as the State official has acted on behalf of the State, only the State can be responsible for the acts of that official,[1] and that, as a corollary, the State may demand for its State officials (where their acts are attributed only to the State) a “functional immunity from foreign jurisdiction”.[2]  Such a rule, the Appeals Chamber states, undoubtedly applies to relations between States inter se, but it must be taken into account and has always been respected by, inter alia, international courts.[3]  All of the authorities which the Appeals Chamber cited in support of the functional immunity upon which it relied relate to an immunity against prosecution.  It may be the case (it is unnecessary to decide here) that, between States, such a functional immunity exists against prosecution for those acts, but it would be incorrect to suggest that such an immunity exists in international criminal courts.[4]  The Charter of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg denied such an immunity to “Heads of State or responsible officials in Government Departments”,[5] as does this Tribunal’s Statute.[6]

27.     But it is abundantly clear from the passages already quoted from the Blaškić Subpoena Decision, and from pars 23-24, supra, that the statement made in par 38 of that Decision – that “The Appeals Chamber dismisses the possibility of the International Tribunal addressing subpoenas to State officials acting in their official capacity” – can be justified only in relation to the production of documents in their custody in their official capacity.  The Appeals Chamber did not say that the functional immunity enjoyed by State officials includes an immunity against being compelled to give evidence of what the official saw or heard in the course of exercising his official functions.  Nothing which was said by the Appeals Chamber in the Blaškić Subpoena Decision should be interpreted as giving such an immunity to officials of the nature whose testimony is sought in the present case.  No authority for such a proposition has been produced by the prosecution, and none has been found.  Such an immunity does not exist.  No issue arises for determination in this case as to whether there are different categories of State officials to whom any such immunity may apply, and it is unnecessary to determine such an issue here.

See also paragraph 28.

[1]    [Prosecutor v Blaškić, IT-95-14-AR108bis, Judgment on the Request of the Republic of Croatia for Review of the Decision of Trial Chamber II of 18 July 1997, 29 Oct 1997 (“Blaškić Subpoena Decision”).] See pars 38(iii) and 41, and footnotes 43-45, supra.

[2]    See par 41, supra.

[3]    See par 41, supra.

[4]    In Case Concerning the Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2002 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v Belgium), 14 Feb 2002 (the Yerodia Case), General List No 121 [unreported], at par 61, the International Court of Justice said:  “Accordingly, the immunities enjoyed under international law by an incumbent or former Minister for Foreign Affairs do not represent a bar to criminal prosecution in certain circumstances.  [...] an incumbent or former Minister for Foreign Affairs may be subject to criminal proceedings before certain international criminal courts, where they have jurisdiction.  Examples include the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia [...].”

[5]    Charter, Article 7:  “The official position of defendants whether as Heads of State or responsible officials in Government Departments, shall not be considered as freeing them from responsibility or mitigating punishment.”  See also Article II of Control Council Law No 10.  In its Judgment, the Nuremberg Tribunal stated (at pp 222-223):  “It was submitted that international law is concerned with the actions of sovereign States, and provides no punishment for individuals; and further, and where the act in question is an act of State, those who carry it out are not personally responsible, but are protected by the doctrine of the sovereignty of the State.  In the opinion of the Tribunal, both these submissions must be rejected.  […]  The principle of international law, which under certain circumstances, protects the representatives of a State, cannot be applied to acts which are condemned as criminal by international law.  The authors of these acts cannot shelter themselves behind their official position in order to be freed from punishment in appropriate proceedings […].  On the other hand the very essence of the Charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual State.  He who violates the laws of war cannot obtain immunity while acting in pursuance of the authority of the State if the State in authorising action moves outside its competence under international law.”  Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal: Nuremberg, 14 November 1945 – 1 October 1946 (1947).

[6]    Article 7.2:  “The official position of any accused person, whether as Head of State or Government or as a responsible Government official, shall not relieve such person of criminal responsibility nor mitigate punishment.”

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Decision on Contempt Proceedings - 26.04.2017 NGIRABATWARE Augustin

Pages 2-3:

CONSIDERING that, pursuant to Rule 90 of the Rules, the Mechanism in the exercise of its inherent power may hold in contempt those who knowingly and wilfully interfere with the administration of justice;

CONSIDERING, however, that in matters pertaining to State obligations, it is well-established that State officials “are mere instruments of a State and their official action can only be attributed to the State”,[1] that, subject to certain limited exceptions,[2] “[t]hey cannot be the subject of sanctions or penalties for conduct that is not private but undertaken on behalf of a State”, and “cannot suffer the consequences of wrongful acts which are not attributable to them personally but to the State on whose behalf they act”;[3]

CONSIDERING that “[i]t is the State which is bound by [the obligation to cooperate with the Mechanism under Article 28 of the Statute] and it is the State for which the official or agent fulfils his function that constitutes the legitimate interlocutor of the [Mechanism] and “shall therefore incur international responsibility for any serious breach of that provision by their officials”;[4]

CONSIDERING that the Mechanism “is endowed with the inherent power to make a judicial finding concerning a State’s failure to observe the provisions of the Statute or the Rules” and “also has a power to report this judicial finding to the [United Nations] Security Council”;[5]

CONSIDERING, however, that the Mechanism “is not vested with any enforcement or sanctionary power vis-à-vis States” and that “[i]t is primarily for its parent body, the [United Nations] Security Council, to impose sanctions, if any, against a recalcitrant State”; [6]


CONSIDERING that the Mechanism has, therefore, taken appropriate measures provided for in the Statute and the Rules to address Republic of Turkey’s non-compliance with the Order of 31 January 2017 and that the procedure envisaged under Rule 90 of the Rules is not applicable in this case;

[1] Prosecutor v. Tihomir Blaškić, Case No. IT-95-14-AR108 bis, Judgement on the Request of the Republic of Croatia for Review of the Decision of the Trial Chamber II of 18 July 1997, 29 October 1997 (“Blaškić Appeal Decision”), para. 38. See also Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstić, Case No. IT-98-33-A, Decision on Application for Subpoenas, 1 July 2003 (“Krstić Appeal Decision”), paras. 20.

[2] For instance, those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide cannot invoke immunity from national or international jurisdiction even if they perpetrated the crimes while acting in their official capacity (see Blaškić Appeal Decision, paras. 41, 42). See also Blaškić Appeal Decision, para. 51; Krstić Appeal Decision, paras. 24-27.

[3] Blaškić Appeal Decision, para. 38. See also Blaškić Appeal Decision, paras. 42-44.

[4] Blaškić Appeal Decision, para. 44.

[5] Blaškić Appeal Decision, para. 33. See also Blaškić Appeal Decision, para. 37.

[6] Blaškić Appeal Decision, para. 33.

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IRMCT Statute Article 28 IRMCT Rule Rule 8;
Rule 90