Saturday, July 9, 2022
Karnaukh on the Territorial Tort Exception
Bohdan Karnaukh, a Ukrainian tort scholar, has written a note about a recent opinion of the Ukrainian Supreme Court on the availability of tort actions against Russia for torts/crimes against Ukrainian citizens. The abstract provides:
The jurisdictional immunity of a state means that the state cannot be involved as a defendant in a case considered by a foreign court. In Ukraine, the rule on the jurisdictional immunity of a foreign state is enshrined in Art. 79 of the Law of Ukraine ‘On Private International Law’. Until 14 April 2022, the Ukrainian Supreme Court rigidly applied the provisions of the said article and recognised the Russian Federation’s immunity with regard to claims brought by Ukrainian citizens seeking compensation for harm caused by the armed conflict that commenced in 2014. Yet shortly after 24 February 2022, when Russia’s aggression against Ukraine entered a new phase, i.e., the phase of full-scale war, the Supreme Court changed its mind.
This note addresses the ruling of the Ukrainian Supreme Court of 14 April 2022 in case no. 308/9708/19, where the Court held that the Russian Federation could not plead immunity with regard to tort claims brought by the victims of the Russia-Ukraine war. In reaching this conclusion, the Court relied on the territorial tort exception enshrined in the European Convention on State Immunity (Basel, 16 May 1972) and the UN Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Property. Though neither of the two conventions has been ratified by either Ukraine or the Russian Federation, the Court found that these conventions indicate a general tendency in international customary law towards limiting the jurisdictional immunity of the states.
The reasoning of the Supreme Court is examined by scrutinising the authorities the Court adduced in support of its ruling, as well as by putting the ruling in the broader context of the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
It is concluded that what the Supreme Court utilised is not the territorial tort exception but rather the ‘human rights/jus cogens’ exception. Further, the case before the Ukrainian Supreme Court is distinguishable from the ICJ and the ECtHR cases, where it was held that notwithstanding gross violations of human rights, the respondent state should nevertheless enjoy immunity. Unlike those cases, the Ukrainian case was tried amid the ongoing war, when no reparation agreements had been concluded, the legitimate aim of ‘promoting comity and good relations between states’ had been frustrated, and it was no longer possible to justify the restriction of the plaintiff’s right of access to a fair trial.