Links

Site search
Document search
Contact

The Court

History
Members of the Court
Presidency
Chambers and Committees
Judges ad hoc
How the Court Works
Financial Assistance to Parties
Annual Reports

The Registry

Registrar
Organizational Chart of the Registry
Texts governing the Registry
Library of the Court
Employment
University traineeship program
Internships
Procurement

Cases

List of All Cases
Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders

Basic Documents

Charter of the United Nations
Statute of the Court
Rules of Court
Practice Directions
Other Texts

Jurisdiction

Contentious Jurisdiction
Advisory Jurisdiction

Press Room

Press releases
Calendar
Media Services
Multimedia
Frequently Asked Questions

Practical Information

Directions
Visits
Links
Frequently Asked Questions

Publications

Introduction

Permanent Court of International Justice

Series A: Collection of Judgments (1923-1930)
Series B: Collection of Advisory Opinions (1923-1930)
Series A/B: Collection of Judgments, Orders and Advisory Opinions (from 1931)
Series C: Acts and documents relating to Judgments and Advisory Opinions given by the Court / Pleadings, Oral Arguments and Documents
Series D: Acts and Documents concerning the organization of the Court
Series E: Annual Reports
Series F: General Indexes
Other documents


Français

Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium)

Overview of the case

On 17 October 2000, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) filed an Application instituting proceedings against Belgium concerning a dispute over an international arrest warrant issued on 11 April 2000 by a Belgian examining judge against the acting Congolese Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Abdoulaye Yerodia Ndombasi, seeking his detention and subsequent extradition to Belgium for alleged crimes constituting “grave violations of international humanitarian law”. The arrest warrant was transmitted to all States, including the DRC, which received it on 12 July 2000.

The DRC also filed a request for the indication of a provisional measure seeking “an order for the immediate discharge of the disputed arrest warrant”. Belgium, for its part, called for that request to be rejected and for the case to be removed from the List. In its Order made on 8 December 2000, the Court, rejecting Belgium’s request for the case to be removed from the List, stated that “the circumstances, as they [then] presented themselves to the Court, [were] not such as to require the exercise of its power, under Article 41 of the Statute, to indicate provisional measures”.

The Memorial of the DRC was filed within the prescribed time-limits. For its part, Belgium filed, within the prescribed time-limits, a Counter-Memorial addressing both issues of jurisdiction and admissibility and the merits.

In its submissions presented at the public hearings, the DRC requested the Court to adjudge and declare that Belgium had violated the rule of customary international law concerning the inviolability and immunity from criminal process of incumbent foreign ministers and that it should be required to recall and cancel that arrest warrant and provide reparation for the moral injury to the DRC. Belgium raised objections relating to jurisdiction, mootness and admissibility.

In its Judgment of 14 February 2002, the Court rejected the objections raised by Belgium and declared that it had jurisdiction to entertain the application of the DRC. With respect to the merits, the Court observed that, in the case, it was only questions of immunity from criminal jurisdiction and the inviolability of an incumbent Minister for Foreign Affairs that it had to consider, on the basis, moreover, of customary international law.

The Court then observed that, in customary international law, the immunities accorded to Ministers for Foreign Affairs are not granted for their personal benefit, but to ensure the effective performance of their functions on behalf of their respective States. The Court held that the functions exercised by a Minister for Foreign Affairs were such that, throughout the duration of his or her office, a Minister for Foreign Affairs when abroad enjoyed full immunity from criminal jurisdiction and inviolability. Inasmuch as the purpose of that immunity and inviolability was to prevent another State from hindering the Minister in the performance of his or her duties, no distinction could be drawn between acts performed by the latter in an “official” capacity and those claimed to have been performed in a “private capacity” or, for that matter, between acts performed before assuming office as Minister for Foreign Affairs and acts committed during the period of office. The Court then observed that, contrary to Belgium’s arguments, it had been unable to deduce from its examination of State practice that there existed under customary international law any form of exception to the rule according immunity from criminal jurisdiction and inviolability to incumbent Ministers for Foreign Affairs when they were suspected of having committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The Court further observed that the rules governing the jurisdiction of national courts must be carefully distinguished from those governing jurisdictional immunities. The immunities under customary international law, including those of Ministers for Foreign Affairs, remained opposable before the courts of a foreign State, even where those courts exercised an extended criminal jurisdiction on the basis of various international conventions on the prevention and punishment of certain serious crimes.

However, the Court emphasized that the immunity from jurisdiction enjoyed by incumbent Ministers for Foreign Affairs did not mean that they enjoyed impunity in respect of any crimes they might have committed, irrespective of their gravity. While jurisdictional immunity was procedural in nature, criminal responsibility was a question of substantive law. Jurisdictional immunity might well bar prosecution for a certain period or for certain offences ; it could not exonerate the person to whom it applied from all criminal responsibility. The Court then spelled out the circumstances in which the immunities enjoyed under international law by an incumbent or former Minister for Foreign Affairs did not represent a bar to criminal prosecution.

After examining the terms of the arrest warrant of 11 April 2000, the Court noted that the issuance, as such, of the disputed arrest warrant represented an act by the Belgian judicial authorities intended to enable the arrest on Belgian territory of an incumbent Minister for Foreign Affairs, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It found that, given the nature and purpose of the warrant, its mere issuance constituted a violation of an obligation of Belgium towards the DRC, in that it had failed to respect the immunity which Mr. Yerodia enjoyed as incumbent Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Court also declared that the international circulation of the disputed arrest warrant from June 2000 by the Belgian authorities constituted a violation of an obligation of Belgium towards the DRC, in that it had failed to respect the immunity of the incumbent Minister for Foreign Affairs. Finally, the Court considered that its findings constituted a form of satisfaction which would make good the moral injury complained of by the DRC. However, the Court also held that, in order to re-establish “the situation which would, in all probability have existed if [the illegal act] had not been committed”, Belgium must, by means of its own choosing, cancel the warrant in question and so inform the authorities to whom it had been circulated.


This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.

Institution of proceedings

Written proceedings

Request for the indication of a Provisional Measure
(French version only)

17 October 2000
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
French

Memorial of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
(French version only)

15 May 2001
Procedure(s): Questions of jurisdiction and/or admissibility
Available in:
French

Counter-Memorial of the Kingdom of Belgium

28 September 2001
Procedure(s): Questions of jurisdiction and/or admissibility
Available in:
English French

Oral proceedings

Verbatim record 2000/32

Public sitting held on Monday 20 November 2000, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Guillaume presiding
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2000/33

Public sitting held on Tuesday 21 November 2000, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Guillaume presiding
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2000/34

Public sitting held on Wednesday 22 November 2000, at 10.40 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Guillaume presiding
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2000/35

Public sitting held on Thursday 23 November 2000, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, Vice-President Shi, Acting President, presiding
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2001/5

Public sitting held on Monday 15 October 2001, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Guillaume and Vice-President Shi presiding, successively
Procedure(s): Questions of jurisdiction and/or admissibility
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2001/6

Public sitting held on Tuesday 16 October 2001, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Guillaume presiding
Procedure(s): Questions of jurisdiction and/or admissibility
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2001/8

Public sitting held on Wednesday 17 October 2001, at 3 p.m., at the Peace Palace, President Guillaume presiding
Procedure(s): Questions of jurisdiction and/or admissibility
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2001/9

Public sitting held on Thursday 18 October 2001, at 3 p.m., at the Peace Palace, President Guillaume presiding
Procedure(s): Questions of jurisdiction and/or admissibility
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2001/10

Public sitting held on Friday 19 October 2001, at 9.30 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Guillaume presiding
Procedure(s): Questions of jurisdiction and/or admissibility
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2001/11

Public sitting held on Friday 19 October 2001, at 5 p.m., at the Peace Palace, President Guillaume presiding
Procedure(s): Questions of jurisdiction and/or admissibility
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Other documents

Orders

Order of 13 December 2000

Fixing of time-limits: Memorial and Counter-Memorial
Available in:
English French Bilingual

Order of 14 March 2001

Extension of time-limits: Memorial and Counter-Memorial
Available in:
English French Bilingual

Order of 12 April 2001

Extension of time-limits: Memorial and Counter-Memorial
Available in:
English French

Order of 27 June 2001

Rejection of Preliminary Objections; extension of time-limit: Counter-Memorial
Available in:
English French

Judgments

Summaries of Judgments and Orders

Summary 2000/3

Summary of the Order of 8 December 2000
Available in:
English French

Summary 2002/1

Summary of the Judgment of 14 February 2002
Available in:
English French

Press releases

Press release 2000/32

17 October 2000
The Democratic Republic of Congo institutes proceedings against Belgium concerning an international arrest warrant issued by a Belgian examining judge against the DRC's acting Minister for Foreign Affairs - The DRC seises the Court of a request for a provisional measure seeking to have the arrest warrant withdrawn forthwith
Available in:
English French

Press release 2000/35

20 October 2000
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - Request for the indication of provisional measure - Court to hear the Parties at public hearings to open on Monday 20 November 2000
Available in:
English French

Press release 2000/39

5 December 2000
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - Request for the indication of provisional measures - Court to announce its ruling on Friday 8 December 2000 at 10 a.m.
Available in:
English French

Press release 2000/40

8 December 2000
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - The Court rejects Belgium's request that the case be removed from the List and finds that the circumstances, as they now present themselves, are not such as to require the indication of provisional measures
Available in:
English French

Press release 2000/41

15 December 2000
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - Fixing of time-limits for the filing of written pleadings
Available in:
English French

Press release 2001/8

16 March 2001
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - Extension of the time-limits fixed for the filing of written pleadings
Available in:
English French

Press release 2001/11

17 April 2001
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - New extension of the time-limits fixed for the filing of written pleadings
Available in:
English French

Press release 2001/17

29 June 2001
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - The Court rejects a request by Belgium seeking to derogate from the agreed procedure in the case, extends the time-limit for the filing of Belgium's Counter-Memorial and fixes 15 October 2001 as the date for the opening of the hearings
Available in:
English French

Press release 2001/23

10 October 2001
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - Programme of the public hearings which will open on Monday 15 October 2001
Available in:
English French

Press release 2001/27
(French version only)

19 October 2001
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - Conclusion of the public hearings - Court ready to consider its Judgment
Available in:
French

Press release 2002/2

7 February 2002
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - Court to deliver its Judgment on Thursday 14 February 2002 at 3 p.m.
Available in:
English French

Press release 2002/3

13 February 2002
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - President of the Court to deliver a statement to the media immediately after the reading of the Judgment on Thursday 14 February 2002
Available in:
English French

Press release 2002/4

14 February 2002
Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - The Court finds that the issue and international circulation by Belgium of the arrest warrant of 11 April 2000 against Mr. Abdulaye Yerodia Ndombasi failed to respect the immunity from criminal jurisdiction and the inviolability which the incumbent Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Congo enjoyed under international law; and that Belgium must cancel the arrest warrant
Available in:
English French