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This report provides a review of laws adopted in Cuba, Iran, Libya, Russia, Sudan, and Syria on lifting the sovereign immunity of foreign states.  Individual lawsuits against the United States brought before national and international courts by these countries are also analyzed.

The surveys demonstrate some diversity and common threads with regard to lifting the sovereign immunity of the US and other countries.  Except for Iran and Russia, the surveyed countries have no specific legislation addressing general principles of sovereign immunity.  Iran uses domestic counterterrorism legislation to facilitate the freezing of financial assets of foreign governments.  Syria uses such legislation to freeze the assets of individuals, including government officials, while Sudan uses it simply to prosecute foreign nationals.  Cuba and Iran have adopted special laws targeting the US. 

Laws on jurisdictional immunity passed by the Russian and Iranian legislatures are based on the principle of negative reciprocity meant to deter the lifting of sovereign immunity of Russia or Iran by other countries.  These laws allow domestic courts to try civil cases against foreign governments.  While the focus of the Iranian law appears to be limited to violations of international law and cases of terrorism, Russian law is broader and allows considering foreign state property in Russia as an asset in any civil suit against a foreign government brought before a Russian court.  In both cases, the countries’ foreign ministries determine the damage inflicted on the nation’s sovereign immunity and recommend the level of reciprocity to the court. 

Where antiterrorism legislation is relied on, national laws generally allow the prosecution of foreign nationals, including public officials living abroad, and seizure of their assets.  Such laws in Sudan and Syria are vague and extend their jurisdiction to “offenses against the interests of the country.”  Cuba is the only country that uses its domestic civil legislation rather than a separate legal act to adjudicate judicial claims for human and economic damages inflicted by foreign states.  On the basis of the Civil Code’s provisions concerning civil liability, Cuban courts have ruled in two cases against the US and ordered it to compensate the injured parties.

The reports identify Cuba and Iran as having laws directly abrogating the sovereign immunity of the US.  Cuban law provides for liability arising from specific acts supported by the US government, and allows affected Cuban individuals to submit claims to the government-run Claims Commission.  The law of Iran is aimed at the US, its citizens, its agents, and other countries that cooperate with the US in “conducting inhuman acts against Iranians” and plotting against “the interests of Iran.”

Information on recent cases against the US tried in domestic courts is included in the report.  It appears that such cases are often used for domestic propaganda purposes.

Prepared by Peter Roudik
Director of Legal Research
June 2016

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Last Updated: 09/21/2016