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Rainbow Warrior (New Zealand v. France)

82 I.L.R. 500, 551-64 (1990)

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Rainbow Warrior (New Zealand v. France)

France-New Zealand Arbitration Tribunal

82 I.L.R. 500, 551-64 (1990)


Greenpeace International, a civilian organization, owned the Rainbow Warrior, a ship, and kept it docked at Auckland Harbor, New Zealand (plaintiff). While the ship was moored in New Zealand, several agents of France (defendant) destroyed the ship through explosive devices. Two French agents were captured by New Zealand after the incident. France and New Zealand entered a serious disagreement, as France sought extradition of the two agents, and New Zealand sought reparation for the incident. The two States were unable to reach a settlement, and submitted their disagreement to the United Nations Secretary General for binding arbitration. The Secretary General issued a ruling in 1986 which required France to pay reparations of $7 million and to stop interfering with New Zealand’s international trade affairs. The Secretary General also required the transfer of the two French agents to a French military facility for a three-year period. The two agents were prohibited from leaving the facility for any reason, except with the consent of the two governments. France and New Zealand formalized their acceptance of the Secretary General’s ruling by exchanging a series of letters known as the 1986 Agreement. Five months after the agreement, France requested permission to transfer one of the agents to an off-site hospital for urgent care. In the process of conducting negotiations with New Zealand, France unilaterally completed the transfer. New Zealand objected to this act, and sent its own physician to examine the agent. The physician disagreed with the emergency evacuation, but agreed that the agent required medical procedures unavailable at the military facility. Once the agent was successfully treated, the New Zealand physician recommended he be transferred back to the military facility. However, France released him as “repatriated for health reasons.” A similar situation occurred with the other agent, as when her father was sick and dying, France requested to transfer her for “humanitarian reasons” but unilaterally made the transfer during negotiations with New Zealand. New Zealand and France submitted their dispute again to an arbitral tribunal. New Zealand demanded a declaration that France had breached its obligations by unilaterally transferring the agents without New Zealand’s consent, and an order that France be required to return the two agents to the military facility. France denied international responsibility on the grounds of force majeure and distress.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning

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