Un Absolute Immunity

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Un Absolute Immunity

The United Nations Enjoys Absolute Immunity in 2011

United States views on international law (based on the document “Digest of U.S. Practice in International Law”): The United Nations General Convention, to which the United States is a party, explicitly provides that the United Nations is absolutely immune from suit in the absence of an express waiver—indeed, “from every form of legal process.” General Convention, art. II,§ 2.

The United States understands this provision to mean what it unambiguously says: the UN, including, here, its integral component the UNDP, enjoys absolute immunity from this or any suit unless the United Nations itself expressly waives its immunity. There is no allegation, much less evidence, that the United Nations has waived its immunity here. On the contrary, the United Nations itself expressly maintains its immunity, including the UNDP's, from this suit. See letters dated January 18 and April 14, 2011, from Stephen Mathias, Assistant Secretary-General in charge of United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, to Russell Graham, U.S. Mission to the UN, annexed (without enclosures) hereto respectively as Exhibits 1 and 2.

To the extent there could be any contrary reading of the General Convention's text, the Court should defer to the United States Executive Branch's interpretation. See Kolovrat v.Oregon, 366 U.S. 187, 194 (1961) (“While courts interpret treaties for themselves, the meaning given them by the departments of government particularly charged with their negotiation and enforcement is given great weight.”). Here, the Executive Branch, and specifically the Department of State, is charged with maintaining relations with the United Nations, and so its views are entitled to deference under, inter alia, Kolovrat. The Executive Branch's interpretation should be given still greater deference in this case since, as noted above, the interpretation is shared by the UN. See Sumitomo Shoji America, Inc. v. Avagliano, 457 U.S. 176, 185 (1982) (where parties to treaty agree on meaning of treaty provision, and interpretation “follows from the clear treaty language, [the court] must, absent extraordinarily strong contrary evidence, defer to that interpretation”).

Consistent with the applicable treaty language and the Executive Branch's views, courts repeatedly, and indeed to the United States' knowledge uniformly, have recognized that “[u]nder the Convention the United Nations' immunity is absolute, subject only to the organization's express waiver thereof in particular cases.” Boimah v. United Nations General Assembly, 664 F.Supp. 69, 71 (E.D.N.Y. 1987); see also, e.g., Askir, 933 F. Supp. at 371.…

The UNDP, as an integral program of the UN, enjoys this same absolute immunity. Indeed, the Office of Legal Affairs of the United Nations equated the UNDP with the United Nations when requesting that the United States take action to assert the UN's immunity in this case. …


See Also

  • Privileges
  • Immunities
  • International Organizations
  • United Nations

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