R‚union A‚rienne v Libyan Arab Jamahiriya [France, Court of Cassation (Civil Chamber I)]

CourtCourt of Cassation (France)
Docket Number(Case No 09–14743)1
Date09 mars 2011

France, Court of Cassation (Civil Chamber I)

(Charrault, President; Pascal, Rapporteur; Chevalier, Advocate-General)

(Case No 0914743)1

Runion Arienne
Socialist People's Libyan
Arab Jamahiriya

State immunity Jurisdiction Limitation to sovereign acts Human rights Access to court Whether State immunity a limitation on right of access to court in civil proceedings Whether complying with international law on State immunity a legitimate aim Jus cogens Whether limiting State immunity Crimes against international law Terrorism Whether limiting State immunity The law of France

Summary:2The facts:In 1989 a civil airliner operated by a French company exploded over Niger with heavy loss of life. In 1999 a French court convicted six Libyan nationals in absentia of this crime. Subsequently, the relatives of some of the victims and various insurance companies (the applicants) brought civil proceedings against the convicted Libyan nationals and the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (the Jamahiriya). The lower courts held that the Jamahiriya was entitled to State immunity, except with regard to certain claims in respect of which it had waived immunity. The applicants challenged that decision before the Court of Cassation.

Held:The application was dismissed.

(1) Foreign States were entitled to State immunity only in respect of acts which, by their nature and purpose fell within the exercise of sovereignty. In the present case, the Jamahiriya was not accused of having carried out the terrorist attack but of having failed to punish or disown it and, possibly, of having supported it. The lower court was, therefore, entitled to hold that the Jamahiriya was immune from the jurisdiction of the French courts. The criminal nature of a terrorist act was not in itself sufficient to justify setting aside that immunity (pp. 6323).

(2) The decision that the Jamahiriya was immune did not entail a violation of the right of access to a court under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The grant of sovereign immunity in civil proceedings pursued

the legitimate aim of complying with international law. Even assuming that the prohibition of terrorism had the status of a jus cogens rule and that it took precedence over other rules of international law so as to constitute a legitimate restriction on State immunity, such a restriction would be disproportionate on the facts of the present case (pp. 6335)

(3) The lower court had been entitled to conclude that the Jamahiriya had not waived its immunity with regard to the applicants (p. 635).

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

Whereas on 19 September 1989 a DC 10 aircraft of the company UTA, flying from Brazzaville to Paris, exploded over the Tnr desert, in Niger, killing all on board;

Whereas, by a judgment rendered in absentia on 10 March 1999, a specially constituted bench of the Paris Cour d'assises found Messrs X, Y, Z, A, B and D, all Libyan nationals, guilty of complicity in acts of destruction and damage to moveable or immoveable property by means of an explosive substance having caused the death of 170 persons, such acts having been committed in connection with a joint...

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