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European Court Of Human Rights
Wednesday, 21 June, 2006

European Court Of Human Rights : Press Release

Applicants Complain That They Have Been Prevented
From Bringing Criminal Proceedings Against Colonel Qadhafi

Press release issued by the Registrar


The European Court of Human Rights is holding a Grand Chamber hearing today Wednesday 21 June 2006 at 9 a.m., in the case of Association S.O.S. Attentats and de Boëry v. France (application no. 76642/01).

The applicants

The case concerns an application brought by the association ‘SOS Attentats, SOS Terrorisme’, whose headquarters are in Paris, and by Béatrice Castelanu d'Essenault (maiden name de Boëry), a French national who lives in Paris.

Summary of the facts

The applicants complain that, following a terrorist attack in 1989 that resulted in the loss of a DC 10 operated by UTA, they have been prevented from bringing criminal proceedings against Colonel Gaddafi, the head of the Libyan State, and from claiming compensation for their losses by the immunity he enjoys in France on account of his position as a foreign head of state.

On 19 September 1989 an airliner operated by the French airline UTA exploded over the Ténéré desert following a bomb attack in which 170 people, including Ms Castelanu d'Essenault's sister and a number of other French nationals, were killed.

In proceedings instituted in France, six Libyan nationals were committed for trial in the Paris Special Assize Court. These were the head of the Libyan secret service (Colonel Gaddafi's brother-in-law), four members of the Libyan secret service and a civil servant from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who worked at the Libyan Embassy in Brazzaville. On 10 March 1999 the six defendants were convicted in their absence to life imprisonment and ordered to pay compensation to the victims' families.

In June 1999 the applicants lodged a complaint against Colonel Gaddafi and sought leave to join the proceedings as civil parties. They alleged complicity in voluntary homicide, the destruction of property by an explosive device causing fatal injury, and conspiracy to undermine public order through intimidation and terror.

The investigating judges ruled that an information could lawfully be laid. Although the Indictment Division of the Paris Court of Appeal noted that an international custom afforded foreign heads of state immunity from prosecution in the courts of another state, it went on to find that the immunity did not apply in the case before it owing to the nature and seriousness of the alleged offences. However, its judgment was quashed by the Court of Cassation in a decision of 13 March 2001 in which it held that the alleged offences did not come within the exceptions to the principle of immunity for foreign heads of state and that there was therefore no ground for investigating the applicants’ complaints.

On 9 January 2004, following protracted negotiations, the association ‘Les familles du DC 10 UTA en colère!’ and the applicant association, both representing families of the victims, concluded an agreement with the ‘Gaddafi World Foundation for Charities’ under the terms of which the families were each to receive one million US dollars in consideration for waiving their right to bring “civil or criminal proceedings in any French or international court on account of the explosion aboard the aircraft” and the applicant association agreed “not to take any hostile action or to lodge any complaint against Libya or Libyan natural or legal persons in connection with the explosion aboard the aircraft”.


Relying on Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicants submit that the Court of Cassation's ruling that Colonel Gaddafi was entitled to sovereign immunity infringed their right of access to a court. They also complain under Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the lack of an effective remedy.


The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 11 September 2001. On 5 January 2006 the Chamber to which the case was assigned relinquished jurisdiction to the Grand Chamber in accordance with Article 30 of the Convention. Composition of the Court

The case will be heard by the Grand Chamber composed as follows:

Luzius Wildhaber (Swiss), President,
Christos Rozakis (Greek),
Nicolas Bratza (British),
Boštjan M. Zupančič (Slovenian),
Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portuguese),
Karel Jungwiert (Czech),
Volodymyr Butkevych (Ukrainian)
Matti Pellonpää (Finnish),
Margarita Tsatsa-Nikolovska (citizen of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”),
András Baka (Hungarian),
Mindia Ugrekhelidze (Georgian),
Antonella Mularoni (San Marinese),
Elisabeth Steiner (Austrian),
Elisabet Fura-Sandström (Swedish),
Alvina Gyulumyan (Armenian),
Dean Spielmann (Luxemburger), judges,
Vincent Coussirat-Coustere (French), ad hoc judge,
Kristaq Traja (Albanian),
John Hedigan (Irish),
Ján Šikuta (Slovakian), substitute judges,

and also Michael O’Boyle, Deputy Registrar.

Representatives of the parties
Government: Edwige Belliard, Agent,
Anne-Françoise Tissier, Marie Mongin-Heuzé, Thibaut Chautagnat, Counsel;
Applicants: Emmanuel Piwnica, Didier Bouthors, Counsel,
Raphaëlle Poupet, Adviser.


After the hearing the Court will begin its deliberations, which are held in private. A decision on admissibility, followed if appropriate by a judgment, will be delivered at a later date.

Press Contacts
Emma Hellyer (telephone: 00 33 (0)3 90 21 42 15)
Stéphanie Klein (telephone: 00 33 (0)3 88 41 21 54)
Beverley Jacobs (telephone: 00 33 (0)3 90 21 54 21)

The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

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