By Haggai Carmon
A United Nations employee was involved in a car accident that caused property damage. Does she enjoy the same immunity the UN enjoys, or any other immunity? A Jerusalem Magistrate Court’s answer was in the negative.
In response to a tort lawsuit for damages against the UN employee, the plaintiff alleged that his damage was caused by her reckless driving. The UN employee moved to dismiss the Complaint in limine arguing immunity pursuant to Article IV, Section 18 of The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations to which Israel is a signatory. Israel also adopted the Convention into its internal law by Order in 1949. Although the UN immunity under the UN Charter’s articles 104 and 105 is functional, the Convention granted the UN absolute immunity.
The UN Charter provides:
The Organization shall enjoy in the territory of each of its Members such legal capacity as may be necessary for the exercise of its functions and the fulfillment of its purposes.
1. The Organization shall enjoy in the territory of each of its Members such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the fulfillment of its purposes.
2. Representatives of the Members of the United Nations and officials of the Organization shall similarly enjoy such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the independent exercise of their functions in connection with the Organization.
3. The General Assembly may make recommendations with a view to determining the details of the application of paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article or may propose conventions to the Members of the United Nations for this purpose.
The UN Convention provides:
Section 18. Officials of the United Nations shall:
(a) be immune from legal process in respect of words spoken
or written and all acts performed by them in their official capacity
Therefore, the defendant claimed that since the UN enjoys absolute immunity in Israel, she too, as an employee of the United Nations is entitled to the same immunity protection. The Plaintiff argued that the immunity granted under the Convention protects UN employees regarding “all acts performed by them in their official capacity.” Since she never alleged that the accident occurred when she was performing any official duty, her claimed immunity cannot be allowed.
The court agreed and refused to dismiss the Complaint.
The court based its decision on a recent decision of the Jerusalem District Court that distinguishes between the absolute immunity of the UN and the relative and restrictive immunity its employees enjoy. The Jerusalem District Court cited
Westchester County v. Ranollo (US, City Court of New Rochelle, 187 Misc. 777, 67 N.Y S2d 31) where a chauffer of the UN Secretary General was convicted for speeding. The New York Court ruled that as a matter of law the employee was not immune. The Jerusalem court also cited Rendall-Speranza v. Nassim and the International Finance Corp. in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
The Jerusalem Court reviewed the Order that adopted the Convention into Israel’s law. In its analysis, the court concluded that the immunity granted to UN employees, under Article 3 of the Order meant to enable them to perform their activities in “furthering UN goals.” The defendant did not do that when she drove the car at the time of the accident. The Jerusalem Court further ruled that as a matter of public policy, UN employees should not be immune while conducting private acts, otherwise arbitrary conduct would be encouraged and protected.
The Motion to Dismiss was denied, and the Complaint against the UN employee will proceed on its merits.