US Supreme Court entscheidet zur Immunität der Weltbank

Der US Supreme Court hat gestern zur Immunität der Weltbankgruppe geurteilt. Eine durchaus richtungsweisende Entscheidung.

Es ist eine klassische Frage: Wie weit reicht die Immunität von Internationalen Organisationen? Ist sie absolut oder relativ? Entspricht sie jener von Staaten oder soll sie weiter gehen?

Grundsätzlich gilt: Internationale Organisationen brauchen möglichst weit gehende Immunität, um ihre Unabhängigkeit zu wahren. Im Gegensatz zu Staaten verfügen sie über kein Territorium, ihre (Haupt-)Quartiere sind Teil des Staatsgebiets, also nicht extraterritorial.

Nun hat sich der US Supreme Court zu der Frage geäußert. Der Fall ist insofern bedeutsam, als der Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit im Fall noch 1985 entschieden hatte, dass die Weltbank im Zusammenhang mit Arbeitsstreitigkeiten (es ging um eine Klage wegen sexueller Belästigung) Immunität genießt (siehe hier).

Der Supreme Court hat nun festgehalten, dass die Immunität internationaler Organisationen jener von Staaten entspricht. Sie gilt in den USA also nicht (mehr) absolut. Kommerzielle Handlungen – acta iure gestionis – (Kauf von Büromaterial oder Werkverträge) sind nicht erfasst.

The IFC argues that interpreting the IOIA’s immunity provision to grant anything less than absolute immunity would lead to a number of undesirable results. The IFC first contends that affording international organizations only restrictive immunity would defeat the purpose of granting them immunity in the first place. Allowing international organizations to be sued in one member country’s courts would in effect allow that member to second-guess the collective decisions of the others. It would also expose international organizations to money damages, which would in turn make it more difficult and expensive for them to fulfill their missions. The IFC argues that this problem is especially acute for international development banks. Because those banks use the tools of commerce to achieve their objectives, they may be subject to suit under the FSIA’s commercial activity exception for most or all of their core activities, unlike foreign sovereigns. According to the IFC, allowing such suits would bring a flood of foreign-plaintiff litigation into U. S. courts, raising many of the same foreign-relations concerns that we identified under the Alien Tort Statute. See Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, 584 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2018); Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U. S. 108, 116–117 (2013). The IFC’s concerns are inflated. To begin, the privileges and immunities accorded by the IOIA are only default rules. If the work of a given international organization would be impaired by restrictive immunity, the organization’s charter can always specify a different level of immunity. The charters of many international organizations do just that. See, e.g., Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, Art. II, §2, Feb. 13, 1946, 21 U. S. T. 1422, T. I. A. S. No. 6900 (“The United Nations . . . shall enjoy immunity from every form of legal process except insofar as in any particular case it has expressly waived its immunity”); Articles of Agreement of the International Monetary Fund, Art. IX, §3, Dec. 27, 1945, 60 Stat. 1413, T. I. A. S. No. 1501 (IMF enjoys “immunity from every form of judicial process except to the extent that it expressly waives its immunity”). Notably, the IFC’s own charter does not state that the IFC is absolutely immune from suit. Nor is there good reason to think that restrictive immunity would expose international development banks to excessive liability. As an initial matter, it is not clear that the lending activity of all development banks qualifies as commercial activity within the meaning of the FSIA. To be considered “commercial,” an activity must be “the type” of activity “by which a private party engages in” trade or commerce. Republic of Argentina v. Weltover, Inc., 504 U. S. 607, 614 (1992); see 28 U. S. C. §1603(d). As the Government suggested at oral argument, the lending activity of at least some development banks, such as those that make conditional loans to governments, may not qualify as “commercial” under the FSIA. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 27–30.

And even if an international development bank’s lending activity does qualify as commercial, that does not mean the organization is automatically subject to suit. The FSIA includes other requirements that must also be met. For one thing, the commercial activity must have a sufficient nexus to the United States. See 28 U. S. C. §§1603, 1605(a)(2). For another, a lawsuit must be “based upon” either the commercial activity itself or acts performed in connection with the commercial activity. See §1605(a)(2). Thus, if the “gravamen” of a lawsuit is tortious activity abroad, the suit is not “based upon” commercial activity within the meaning of the FSIA’s commercial activity exception. See OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs, 577 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2015); Saudi Arabia v. Nelson, 507 U. S. 349, 356–359 (1993). At oral argument in this case, the Government stated that it has “serious doubts” whether petitioners’ suit, which largely concerns allegedly tortious conduct in India, would satisfy the “based upon” requirement. Tr. of Oral Arg. 25–26. In short, restrictive immunity hardly means unlimited exposure to suit for international organizations. * * * The International Organizations Immunities Act grants international organizations the “same immunity” from suit “as is enjoyed by foreign governments” at any given time. Today, that means that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act governs the immunity of international organizations. The International Finance Corporation is therefore not absolutely immune from suit. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. It is so ordered.

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