Duvalier v Haiti

JurisdictionFrance
CourtCourt of Cassation (France)
France, Court of Cassation (First Civil Chamber).

(Camille Bernard, President; Lemontey, Rapporteur; Dontenwille, Advocate-General)

Duvalier
and
State of Haiti

Jurisdiction Claim by foreign State against former Head of State Alleged misappropriation of public funds Whether relating to exercise of sovereign power Whether subject to jurisdiction of municipal courts The law of France

Summary: The facts:The State of Haiti instituted proceedings before the French courts for the recovery of large sums allegedly unlawfully appropriated from the State for his personal use by President Jean-Claude Duvalier prior to his removal from power in February 1986. Duvalier was now resident in France. The Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence, in a judgment of 25 April 1988,1 accepted that French courts had no competence over an international dispute where the foreign State based its claim on the provisions of its public law. However, it was necessary to examine the precise nature of the claim brought by Haiti, which was based on the personal fault of the defendant whilst he exercised power in that country. In these circumstances, the Court of Appeal concluded that the acts at issue were governed by private law since they involved personal fault committed by a person acting in his private capacity. Accordingly the question of competence was to be determined by application of the ordinary rules governing the international competence of the French courts. The Court of Appeal therefore held that the French courts were competent to exercise jurisdiction over the claim. Duvalier appealed to the Court of Cassation.

Held:The appeal was allowed. The French courts were not competent to exercise jurisdiction over the claim.

According to the categorization of the lex fori, disputes concerning relations between a State and its leaders, whatever the precise nature of the wrongful acts committed by them, were necessarily connected to the exercise of sovereign power and could therefore only be resolved in accordance with the principles of public law.

The following is the text of the judgment of the Court:

The State of Haiti, the Lottery of the State of Haiti, the National Bank of Credit [and other bodies] have instituted proceedings claiming the repayment of funds diverted, causing them loss, against Mr Jean-Claude Duvalier, former President of the Republic of Haiti, the members of his family, Mr Merceron, former Secretary of State for Finance, Mr Sambour and Mr Douyon. The Court of Appeal...

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