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Strauss-Kahn’s Tale of Two Immunities

Absolute or Functional Immunity? There within lies Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s fate. The former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has failed to convince a state judge that he is immune from a sexual assault lawsuit filed against him. Bronx Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon declined to dismiss the civil suit stemming from Strauss-Kahn’s alleged conduct while he was the chair of the IMF.

Nafissatou Diallo, a maid at the Sofitel in midtown Manhattan, filed charges against Strauss-Kahn, alleging he committed a “violent and sadistic attack” against her while he was staying at the hotel. Strauss-Kahn resigned from the IMF shortly after the incident, and The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office chose not to prosecute however, the New York State Supreme Court gave the green light for Ms. Diallo’s civil suit to go forward.

The court’s ruling not to dismiss the civil suit boiled down to Judge McKeon’s decision regarding the appropriate application of immunity for Strauss-Kahn; Absolute, Functional, or neither. Absolute immunity would spare Strauss-Khan from criminal or civil liability in the United States, even on matters that are strictly personal and unrelated to the IMF. Functional immunity, however, would spare him in matters in which he was only acting in his IMF capacity.

Although the judge stated in his decision; “that Strauss-Kahn enjoyed some type of immunity, he failed to establish that he enjoyed Absolutely immunity against Ms. Diallo’s allegations.” Strauss-Kahn has denied Ms. Diallo’s allegations all along, but has conceded that whatever happened in the hotel was not in furtherance of the IMF’s business. Judge McKeon cited the IMF’s Articles of Agreement which gives immunity to IMF employees “with respect to acts…in their official capacity, and Functional immunity would not benefit him in this case.”

Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers argued United Nations (UN) and Vienna Conventions permits immunity protection for chairs of international agencies, stating that the UN Convention is widely adopted and has achieved the status of “customary international law.” Not only is the United States not a party to the UN convention, Judge McKeon dismissed the Vienna Convention as well, declaring; “The International Organizations Immunity Act is the customary international law and controls the nature of immunity for Strauss-Kahn.” The Act states that representatives of foreign government or international organizations shall be immune from suits relating to acts “in their official capacity” and falling within their functions.”

Although Ms. Diallo’s civil rights were being challenged by arguments rooted in international Conventions, the Court’s ruling on the governing international law upheld Ms. Diallo’s civil rights. Neither Absolute nor Functional immunity applied to Strauss-Kahn, thus, her civil suit may move forward. The advent of such challenges presents the importance of asserting our civil rights and protecting them from being denied. An attorney with a practice specializing in civil law may be beneficial in navigating such future challenges.

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