When may senior state officials be tried for international crimes? Some comments on the Congo v. Belgium case

Date: 2002
File: PDF
The recent judgment of the ICJ has indubitably shed light on a rather obscure area of international law, that is, the legal regulation of the personal immunities of foreign ministers.

However, one should express serious misgivings about some of the Court’s conclusions. In particular, the Court, besides omitting to pronounce upon the admissibility of universal criminal jurisdiction, failed both (i) to distinguish between so-called functional immunities (inuring to foreign ministers and, more generally, to all state agents with respect to acts performed in their official capacity), and personal immunities, and (ii) to refer to the customary rule lifting functional immunities in case of international crimes. It follows that, in the opinion of the Court, foreign ministers (and other state officials), after leaving office, may be prosecuted and punished for international crimes perpetrated while in office only if such crimes are regarded as acts committed in their ‘private capacity’, a conclusion that is hardly consistent with the current pattern of international criminality and surely does not meet the demands of international criminal justice.

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