Brief Fact Summary.
Citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Plaintiffs) brought suit in federal district court against Karadzic (Defendant), the president of the Bosnian-Serb republic of Srpska for war crimes committed by troops under his command. Defendant claimed immunity from service of process.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The immunity from service of process granted to United Nations invitees under the Agreement between the United Nations and United States of America Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations is limited to its express terms.
Defendant was the president of the self-proclaimed Bosnian-Serb republic of Srpska and his military forces were alleged to have committed atrocities against Croats and Muslims such as human rights violations, genocide, rape, forced prostitution and impregnation, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, summary execution, and wrongful death. Croat and Muslim victims of these atrocities committed by Bosnian-Serb military forces under Defendant’s command sued Defendant in federal district court under the Alien Tort Act. The Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, creates federal jurisdiction over suits alleging torts committed in violation of the law of nations, no matter where in the world they occurred. The complaints alleged that Defendant acted in his official capacity either as the head of Srpska or in collaboration with the government of the former Yugoslavia and its dominant republic, Serbia. The plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and injunctive relief. In 1993, Defendant traveled to the United States on three occasions as an invitee of the United Nations. During two of those visits, Defendant was allegedly personally served with the summons and complaint on each action while he was physically present in Manhattan, outside of the “headquarters district” of the United Nations, and engaging in non-United Nations-related activities. Defendant moved to dismiss, claiming insufficient service of process, lack of personal jurisdiction, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and non-justiciability. His primary argument was that he was immune from service of process while in the United States as a United Nations invitee because of the Agreement between the United Nations and United States of America Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations (Headquarters Agreement) and federal common law. The Headquarters Agreement does provide immunity from service of process while within the United Nations headquarters district for all invitees, and in any location for certain representatives of United Nations members. It also prevents government authorities from impeding the transit of any United Nations invitee to or from the headquarters district. The district court dismissed the suits for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and Plaintiff appealed.
Is a United Nations invitee immune from service of process in circumstances that fall outside of the express terms of the Agreement between the United Nations and United States of America Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations?
(Newman, C.J.) No. The immunity from service of process granted to United Nations invitees under the Agreement between the United Nations and United States of America Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations is limited to its express terms. Defendant was not within the headquarters district when he was served the summons and complaints. He was also not a designated representative of a United Nations member. Also, service of process on a United Nations invitee does not necessarily impede his or her transit to and from the headquarters district. Therefore, invitees do not have immunity while in the United States but outside of the headquarters district. Federal common law also does not create immunity for United Nations invitees because the Headquarters Agreement has already been crafted to balance the interests of the United Nations as well as of the United States. The fact that Defendant may at some point in the future be recognized by the United Nations as the head of state of a friendly nation, this possible future event does not make the claims non-justiciable at this time. If Defendant was personally served within the United States, but outside of the headquarters district, the district court has personal jurisdiction over him. Reversed and remanded.
Treaties and international agreements can have a tremendous impact on issues of amenability to suit in international litigation. Courts are typically reluctant to extend these agreements beyond their express terms. Courts may consider immunity from service of process in construing jurisdictional statutes, such as a state’s long-arm statute, in international cases, but generally will not do so where not expressly stated in cases involving treaties such as the Headquarters Agreement. In Klinghoffer v. S.N.C. Achille Lauro, 93 F.2d 44 (2d Cir. 1991), the court interpreted the term “doing business” in the New York long-arm statute to mean only non-United Nations-related business.