ZM v Permanent Delegation of the League of Arab States

CourtLabour Court (Switzerland)
Date17 novembre 1993
Switzerland, Labour Court (TPH) of Geneva.
Permanent Delegation of the League of Arab States to the United Nations

International organizations Immunity Jurisdictional immunity Foreign national employed as secretary by international organization Contract of employment Dispute Whether subject to jurisdiction of national courts Absence of any headquarters agreement governing the position Whether international organization under any duty to establish administrative tribunal to settle such disputes Whether entitlement of international organization to jurisdictional immunity dependent upon establishment of such a tribunal

International organizations Immunity Jurisdictional immunity Scope Whether absolute Whether having erga omnes effect for third States Whether scope of immunity dependent upon headquarters agreement or rule of customary international law Whether immunity in private contract disputes dependent upon establishment of an internal dispute settlement procedure The law of Switzerland

Summary: The facts:ZM, a Syrian national, was employed from 1980 as a secretary by the Permanent Delegation of the League of Arab States accredited to the European Office of the United Nations in Geneva. A dispute arose between the parties concerning the contract of employment. The Staff Rules of the League provided for such disputes to be settled by its administrative tribunal. Nevertheless, ZM instituted proceedings against his employer before the Labour Court of Geneva. The Arab League did not enter an appearance.

Held:The Court was not competent to exercise jurisdiction over the dispute.

(1) The League of Arab States was an international organization. As such, employment relations with its staff were governed by its own internal rules as well as by international civil service law, and were therefore entirely beyond the jurisdiction of national courts.

(2) Every international organization was under a duty to create an administrative tribunal responsible for settling disputes with its staff to ensure that such disputes were settled by a single judicial body in a uniform manner. Indeed, it appeared that the League of Arab States had established such a tribunal. In these circumstances most national courts would refuse to exercise jurisdiction over such a dispute. Even where elements of local law were integrated into the staff rules of an international organization, this did not mean that local employment tribunals were competent, in the absence of an express provision in an international agreement providing for such competence.

(3) Under customary international law, international organizations enjoyed absolute immunity from jurisdiction, in contrast to States whose immunity only extended to acts performed jure imperii. Such immunity had erga omnes effect in relation not just to the State where the organization was established but also to third States. As a counterpart of this immunity international organizations normally undertook, in a headquarters agreement, to establish a procedure for the settlement of disputes concerning their contracts concluded with private persons.

(4) The League of Arab States was one of those international organizations to which Switzerland had granted a status equivalent to that of a diplomatic mission. Switzerland was therefore bound to grant to the League the normal privileges and immunities of international organizations, even though no specific headquarters agreement had been concluded. Nevertheless, in the absence of such an agreement, those immunities ceased to apply in the event of an abuse of the law. Accordingly, since it had not been established conclusively that recourse to an administrative tribunal was possible in this case, final judgment would be suspended until the parties had the opportunity to supply evidence in this regard.

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

The facts

ZM, a Syrian national, was hired on 1 January 1980 as a secretary-archivist by the Permanent Delegation of the League of Arab States accredited to the European Office of the United Nations in Geneva. According to Article 31 of the Staff Rules: Any dispute relating to the contracts of employment of the staff shall be settled in accordance with the procedure of the Administrative Tribunal of the League of States or in accordance with the procedures laid down in the Headquarters Agreement with the State in which the Mission is situated.

From the grounds of the judgment
I. The non-appearance of the defendant

3. Where a defendant State or an international organization does not appear at a hearing, the Court should...

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