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Interesante sentencia de la CIJ sobre excepciones preliminares en el caso ‘Immunities and Criminal Proceedings’ (Guinea Ecuatorial contra Francia): discusión sobre abusos procesales y del derecho, distinción entre principios y sus derivados

junio 6, 2018

Por Nicolás Carrillo Santarelli

La Corte Internacional de Justicia (en adelante, CIJ) acaba de emitir y publicar su decisión sobre excepciones preliminares presentadas por Francia vía streaming y en su página web, en la que se encuentra el texto de la sentencia. En últimas, la conclusión fue la siguiente:

“The Court concludes that it lacks jurisdiction pursuant to the Palermo Convention to entertain Equatorial Guinea’s Application. The Court further concludes that it has jurisdiction pursuant to the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention to entertain the submissions of Equatorial Guinea relating to the status of the building at 42 Avenue Foch in Paris as diplomatic premises, including any claims relating to the seizure of certain furnishings and other property present on the above-mentioned premises. Finally, the Court finds that Equatorial Guinea’s Application is not inadmissible on grounds of abuse of process or abuse of rights” (párr. 153).

A continuación, destacaré apartados que llamaron mi atención.

La consideración de que no había jurisdicción frente a la Convención de Palermo (que, como a mi juicio bien concluyó la CIJ, exige intentar negociar durante un tiempo razonable, tras el cual puede presentarse una demanda ante la Corte o a arbitraje si así lo acuerdan las partes, párrs. 75-76) se tomó frente a la controversia relativa a si la inmunidad jurisdiccional del vicepresidente Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue era una cuestión cobijada por el artículo 4 de aquel tratado, donde se aludía a la igualdad soberana y al principio de no intervención (párr. 68).  La Corte consideró que, en tanto hay una distinción normativa y técnica entre aquella inmunidad y el principio de igualdad soberana a pesar de que estén relacionados, no podía entenderse que la mención a la soberanía en el artículo 4 se extendiese sobre y cobijase otros principios relacionados. Al respecto, con una interpretación no extensiva, en el párrafo 93 de la decisión se dice que:

“[T]he rules of State immunity derive from the principle of sovereign equality of States (Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (Germany v. Italy: Greece Intervening), Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 2012 (I), pp. 123-124, para. 57). However, Article 4 does not refer to the customary international rules, including State immunity, that derive from sovereign equality but to the principle of sovereign equality itself. Article 4 refers only to general principles of international law. In its ordinary meaning, Article 4 (1) does not impose, through its reference to sovereign equality, an obligation on States parties to act in a manner consistent with the many rules of international law which protect sovereignty in general, as well as all the qualifications to those rules”.

En cuanto al Protocolo Facultativo de la Convención de Viena sobre Relaciones Diplomáticas, hay efectivamente una (interesante) controversia entre las partes, en tanto:

“Equatorial Guinea argues that Article 1 (i) of the Vienna Convention is not merely “descriptive” as maintained by France, but is also “declaratory” in that “[a]s soon as a building is designated for the purposes of a diplomatic mission by the sending State — at least in the absence of clear and undisputed conditions imposed by the receiving State on all sending States, without discrimination — the receiving State must recognize its inviolability […] Article 1 (i) of the Vienna Convention thus does no more than to define what constitutes “premises of the mission”, a phrase used later in Article 22 […] Article 22 of the Vienna Convention provides a régime of inviolability, protection and immunity for “premises of [a diplomatic] mission”” (párrs. 128, 132.133).

Al respecto, la Corte, como era lógico, encontró una controversia entre las partes, que resolverá al pronunciarse sobre el fondo del caso, “as to whether or not the building at 42 Avenue Foch in Paris, which Equatorial Guinea claims is “used for the purposes of its diplomatic mission”, qualifies as “premises of the mission” and, consequently, whether it should be accorded or denied protection under Article 22” (párr. 134, subrayado añadido), extendiéndose su competencia sobre bienes muebles (párr. 137) a pesar de lo siguiente:

“Although the Court has held that an applicant may not introduce during the course of the proceedings a new claim which would have the effect of transforming the subject-matter of the dispute originally brought before it (Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea (Nicaragua v. Honduras), Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 2007 (II), p. 695, para. 108), it is not persuaded that Equatorial Guinea, in advancing its argument regarding movable property seized from the premises at 42 Avenue Foch in Paris, has introduced a new claim into the proceedings. The aspect of the dispute as identified by the Court in paragraph 70 above relates to the inviolability and immunity of the premises in question as a legal consequence of diplomatic status. The Parties agree that Article 22 of the Vienna Convention provides for the régime of inviolability of buildings which have the status of diplomatic premises. Under Article 22, paragraph 3, it is not only the premises of the mission but also “their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission” that are immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution. The Court considers that any claims relating to movable property present on the premises at 42 Avenue Foch in Paris, and resulting from the alleged violation of the immunity to which the building is said to be entitled, fall within the subject-matter of the dispute and that as such the Court is competent to entertain them” (párr. 137). Al igual que frente a la Convención de Palermo (supra), la Corte bien dijo que la posibilidad de que se presente la controversia ante arbitraje no supone una exigencia de ello que excluya la posibilidad de acudir ante la CIJ, al decir que:

“[W]hen read in conjunction with those of Article I and with the Preamble to the Protocols, make it crystal clear that they are not to be understood as laying down a precondition of the applicability of the precise and categorical provision contained in Article I establishing the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court […] Articles II and III provide only that, as a substitute for recourse to the Court, the parties may agree upon resort either to arbitration or to conciliation. It follows, first, that Articles II and III have no application unless recourse to arbitration or conciliation has been proposed by one of the parties to the dispute and the other has expressed its readiness to consider the proposal” (párrs, 120-121).

Me resultó muy interesante, por preferencias académicas, el debate planteado por Francia sobre la existencia o no de un abuso del derecho, en el sentido de que:

“France denies that the Court has jurisdiction, inter alia, on the ground that “Equatorial Guinea’s claim seeks to consolidate an abuse of rights”. It refers to “a necessary corollary of the principle of good faith, in the form of both an abuse of process and an abuse of rights”. France argues that Equatorial Guinea’s conduct was an abuse of rights and that its seisin of the Court was an abuse of process […] As to abuse of process, France argues that Equatorial Guinea’s Application by which it seised the Court constitutes an abuse of process because it was submitted “in the manifest absence of any legal remedy and with the aim of covering abuses of rights committed in other respects”” (párrs. 139, 141, subrayado añadido).

En concreto, Francia dice que el abuso habría consistido en un cambio súbito del estatus de ciertos bienes con objetivos de blindarlos frente a investigaciones, con estos argumentos:

“As to abuse of rights, France refers to inconsistencies in correspondence sent and statements made by Equatorial Guinea regarding the date of acquisition by Equatorial Guinea of the building at 42 Avenue Foch in Paris and the use to which it was put. France argues that Equatorial Guinea had “suddenly and unexpectedly” transformed a private residence into premises of its mission and had appointed “its owner”, Mr.Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, “to increasingly eminent political positions” as the French investigation proceeded. France alleges that Equatorial Guinea’s objective was to shield Mr. Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue and the premises from the pending criminal proceedings. France further contends in its written pleadings that the President of Equatorial Guinea “explicitly acknowledged that the reason for invoking the diplomatic nature of the building located at 42 Avenue Foch [in Paris] was to protect the building from criminal proceedings”” (párr. 140).

Frente a los anteriores interrogantes, la Corte Internacional de Justicia distingue entre abusos procesales y de derecho, y considera que las alegaciones sobre abuso del derecho como las  se discutirán en el fondo y deben ser probadas (según se desprende de la jurisprudencia de la CIJ y de la Corte Permanente de Justicia Internacional); mientras que no habría abuso del derecho porque hay un título válido y una base sólida de competencia, por lo cual su empleo no podría considerarse abusivo salvo que haya una prueba clara en contrario (lo cual es interesante porque admite que ello podría demostrarse incluso existiendo tales título y base). Veamos lo que dice la CIJ. Sobre la distinción:

“[A] distinction has been drawn between abuse of rights and abuse of process. Although the basic concept of an abuse may be the same, the consequences of an abuse of rights or an abuse of process may be different” (párr. 146).

Respecto a la necesidad de probar las alegaciones de abuso, la Corte dijo que:

“On several occasions before the Permanent Court of International Justice, abuse of rights was pleaded and rejected at the merits phase for want of sufficient proof” (párr. 147, subrayado añadido).

Acerca de los “abusos procesales” cuando hay título válido y la excepcionalidad de su admisibilidad en una etapa procesal preliminar si hay suficiente evidencia, la CIJ expresó lo siguiente:

“An abuse of process goes to the procedure before a court or tribunal and can be considered at the preliminary phase of these proceedings. In this case, the Court does not consider that Equatorial Guinea, having established a valid title of jurisdiction, should be barred at the threshold without clear evidence that its conduct could amount to an abuse of process. Such evidence has not been presented to the Court. It is only in exceptional circumstances that the Court should reject a claim based on a valid title of jurisdiction on the ground of abuse of process. The Court does not consider the present case to be one of those circumstances” (párr. 150, subrayado añadido).

Por último, en lo atinente al hecho de que el presunto abuso de derecho invocado por Francia es una cuestión que, en este caso, corresponde a la discusión sobre el fondo del caso, la Corte dijo:

“As to the abuse of rights invoked by France, it will be for each Party to establish both the facts and the law on which it seeks to rely at the merits phase of the case. The Court considers that abuse of rights cannot be invoked as a ground of inadmissibility when the establishment of the right in question is properly a matter for the merits. Any argument in relation to abuse of rights will be considered at the stage of the merits of this case […] For these reasons, the Court does not consider Equatorial Guinea’s present claim inadmissible on grounds of abuse of process or abuse of rights. France’s third preliminary objection is therefore dismissed” (párrs. 151-152, subrayado añadido).

De nuevo, nos encontramos con una decisión sobre excepciones preliminares en la que se tratan temas muy interesantes y relevantes desde la perspectiva de cuestiones trascendentales para el derecho internacional.

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