Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

De-Immunizing Torture: Reconciling Human Rights and State Immunity

Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

De-Immunizing Torture: Reconciling Human Rights and State Immunity

Article excerpt

In May 2005, the United Nations Committee Against Torture expressed "its concern at ... the absence of effective measures to provide civil compensation [in Canada] to victims of torture in all cases." The committee was responding to a ruling of the Ontario Court of Appeal holding that the federal State Immunity Act barred the plaintiff from bringing a civil suit in Ontario for torture inflicted upon him by, and in, Iran. The committee's views place Canada on the horns of a dilemma: If Canada relaxes its state immunity law to allow such lawsuits in order to comply with the Committee Against Torture's recommendations, it may run afoul of the international law of state immunity. Yet, if it persists with its current understanding of state immunity rules, it will fail to take the steps the committee views as necessary to comply with the Torture Convention. This article concludes that state torturers are not necessarily invulnerable to civil remedies in the courts of other states. First, while courts have resisted efforts to de-immunize states themselves, courts may be able to limit state immunity for officials engaging in acts of torture. Second, the international law of countermeasures offers an avenue out of Canada's dilemma. So long as the prerequisites for countermeasures are met, international law permits Canada to limit state immunity for acts of torture. The article suggests amendments to Canada's State Immunity Act that would accomplish exactly this objective.

En mai 2005, le Comite contre la torture des Nations Unies exprimait son inquietude vis a vis de l'absence au Canada de mesures adequates visant a pourvoir une compensation civile aux victimes de la torture dans toutes les instances. Le comite reagissait a une decision de la Cour d'Appel de l'Ontario qui avait determine que, selon les termes de la Loi sur l'Immunite des Etats, le requerant ne pouvait entamer une action au civil en Ontario a la suite de tortures subites en Iran. L'avis du comite met le Canada devant un dilemme : si le Canada assouplit ses lois sur l'immunite de l'Etat afin de permettre de telles actions, il se heurtera peut-etre aux principes de l'immunite de l'Etat en droit international. Or, si le Canada maintient sa conception actuelle des regles de l'immunite de l'Etat, il n'arrivera pas a prendre les mesures que le comite juge necessaires afin de se conformer avec la Convention contre la torture. L'auteur en conclut que les tortionnaires a la solde d'etats ne sont pas necessairement a l'abri de sanctions civiles imposees par les tribunaux etrangers. De prime abord, quoique les tribunaux aient resiste aux atteintes a l'immunite de l'Etat, ils seraient peut-etre en mesure de limiter l'immunite des fonctionnaires ayant pris part a la torture. En second lieu, les regles de droit international portant sur les contre-mesures offrent au Canada une solution possible au dilemme. Lorsque les conditions des contre-mesures sont satisfaites, le droit international permettrait au Canada de limiter l'immunite etatique en ce qui a trait a la torture. En vue de cet objectif, l'auteur propose certains amendements a la Loi sur l'Immunite des Etats du Canada.

Introduction

I. The Concept of State Immunity
   A. Sovereignty and Jurisdiction
   B. Overview of State Immunity
      1. Definition
      2. Justifications

II. Scope of State Immunity
    A. Immunity Ratione Personae
    B. Immunity Ratione Materiae
       1. Definition
       2. Scope of Agency
          a. Strict Application
          b. Tempered Application
          c. Tempered Application in Response to Competing
             International Norms

III. Exceptions to State Immunity
     A. Waiver
     B. Broadly Accepted Subject-Matter Exceptions
     C. Human Rights Exceptions to State Immunity
        1. Right to Civil Redress Under the Torture Convention
        2. Civil Redress for Torture and State Immunity
        3. Bouzari v. Iran
        4. The UN Committee Against Torture
     D. … 
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