State/Sovereign Immunity [Ro.: imunitate, Fr. Immunité, Sp.: inmunidad, Gr.: ετεροδικία] (see also: jurisdiction, sovereignty, extraterritoriality, accountability acta jure imperii, acta jure gestionis) = a principle of public international law according to which, in virtue of the sovereignty, independence and  equality of states, a state cannot exercise the jurisdiction of its national courts over another state. The concept has a restrictive scope since it concerns only acts that are considered to reflect the will of the state, namely acta jure imperii.

The concept of immunity is derived from customary international law and was codified over time in the UN Convention on the Jurisdictional Immunity of States and their Property, the European Convention on State Immunity, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Constituent treaties of International Organisations.

~ of international organisations = international organisations are protected from the jurisdiction of the host state in order to ensure the independent and effective exercise of the functions of the organisation.

ratione materiae/functional ~ [Gr. ασυλία] = the immunity awarded to state officials that perform acts of state. Heads of state or government, senior cabinet members, foreign and defence ministers are exempt from the jurisdiction of foreign national courts. Functional immunity, however, is not a defence against international crimes.

ratione personae/personal ~ = ensures the immunity of state officials from the civil, criminal and administrative jurisdiction. Personal immunity covers an official's personal activities and ceases when they leave office.

Useful Links


International - Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961 [English] - European Convention on State immunity, 1972 [English] - United Nations Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Property, 2004 [English]

Domestic - UK Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 [English] - USA Foreign Sovereign Immunitiess Act 1976 [English] - UK State Immunity Act 1978 [English]

Case law -  Jones and others v. the UK, European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, 2014 [English] - Jurisdictional Immunities Of The State, Germany V. Italy: Greece Intervening, International Court of Justice 2012 [English] - United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Milošević, Slobodan (IT-02-54) [English] - Special Court for Sierra Leone, Prosecutor v. Charles Taylor Decision on Immunity from Jurisdiction, 31 May 2004 [English] - International Court of Justice Case Concerning the Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) [English] - R v Bow Street Magistrates, ex parte Pinochet (Nos 1 & 3), [2000] 1 AC 147 - In Re Pinochet: Spanish National Court, Criminal Division (Plenary Session). Case 19/97, November 4, 1998; Case 1/98, November 5, 1998 93 AJIL 690 [English]

Online publications  - Andrea Bianchi, "Immunity v. Human rights: the Pinochet case", European Journal of international law, 1999 [English] - Stefania Negri, “Sovereign Immunity v. Redress for War Crimes: The Judgment of the International Court of Justice in the Case Concerning Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (Germany v. Italy)”, International Community Law Review, Volume 16, Issue 1, pages 123 – 13, 2014 [English] -  Andrew Sanger, “Immunity Of State Officials From The Criminal Jurisdiction Of A Foreign State”, International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 2013 [English] - Pasquale De Sena, Francesca De Vittor, “State Immunity and Human Rights: The Italian Supreme Court Decision on the Ferrini Case”, European Journal of international law, vol. 16, no. 1, 2005 [English] - Michael Wood, “Do International Organizations Enjoy Immunity Under Customary International Law?”, International Organizations Law Review, Volume 10, Issue 2, pages 287 – 318, 2014 [English]


Akande, 2004, International Law Immunities and the International Criminal Court, 98 AJIL 407 [English]

Cassese, 2003, International Criminal Law, Oxford; Oxford University Press, Chapter 14 [English]

Cassese, 2002, When May Senior State Officials be Tried for International Crimes? Some Comments on the Congo v. Belgium Case, 13 EJIL 853 [English]

Fox, 2008, The Law of State Immunity, Oxford; Oxford University Press [English]

Fox, 2003, The Law of State Immunity, Oxford; Oxford University Press, Chapter 12 [English]

Higgins, 2009, Themes and Theories, Certain Unresolved Aspects of the Law of State Immunity, Chapter 25, Oxford University Press [English]

Warbrick, 2004, Immunity and International Crimes in English Law, 53 ICLQ 769 [English]


By Andreea Cucos