The Law of State Immunity before the Brazilian Supreme Court: what is at stake with the “Changri-La” case?

Aziz Tuffi Saliba, Lucas Carlos Lima


It was 1943 when the Changri-La fishing boat and its ten fishermen crew disappeared near Cabo Frio, Rio de Janeiro. But only in 2001 the Tribunal Marítimo da Marinha do Brasil recognized that the vessel had been sunk by a German submarine. The relatives of the victims sought compensation at the Brazilian courts for its material damages and non-pecuniary losses. However, they stumbled upon a customary norm of Public International Law: the rule prescribing that a State is entitled to immunity in respect of acta jure imperii before the domestic courts of another State. After a long journey within the Brazilian courts, the case reached the Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF) – the Brazilian Supreme Court, which blends functions of constitutional review and court of last appeal – and in March 2021, the trial finally started. In the Extraordinary Appeal with Interlocutory Appeal (ARE) 954858 – currently suspended after Justice Alexandre de Moraes’ request to see the records –, it is discussed whether human rights violations are an exception to the rule of States’ sovereign immunity. While the case has not yet reached a conclusion, some Justices have already expressed their legal views – their votes, as they are called in the Brazilian Supreme Court – offering potential outcomes for the discussion. In this essay, we analyze two issues present in some of the votes: absence of proper engagement with international legal arguments, revealing a detachment from international law, and the possible consequences of the thesis proposed by the reporting Justice, Edson Fachin. Our endeavor is both to comment and to explain what is at stake with the Changri-la case.


Direito Internacional, Imunidades Jurisdicionais, Imunidades, Direitos Humanos (International Law, Jurisdictional Immunities, Immunities, Human Rights Law)

Texto completo:



ALEBEEK, Rosanne van; PAVONI, Riccardo. Immunities of States and their Officials. In: NOLLKAEMPER, André; REINISCH, August; JANIK, Ralph; SIMLINGER, Florentina (eds.). International Law in Domestic Courts: A Casebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. p. 100-169.

AMOROSO, Daniele. Chapter 11 – Italy. In: PALOMBINO, Fulvio Maria (ed.). Duelling for Supremacy: International Law vs. National Fundamental Principles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. p. 184-209.

ARCARI, Maurizio; PALCHETTI, Paolo; TANCREDI, Antonello. Il giudice interno di fronte agli obblighi internazionali. Tra ondate identitarie e risacche di dédoublement fonctionnel. Quaderni costituzionali, Mar. 2020, p. 217-224.

BIANCHI, Andrea. Ferrini v. Federal Republic of Germany. The American Journal of International Law, v. 99, n. 1, jan. 2005, p. 242-248.

BORNKAMM, Christoph. State Immunity against Claims Arising from War Crimes: The Judgement of the International Court of Justice in Jurisdictional Immunities of the State. German Law Journal, v. 13, n. 6, 2012, p. 773-782.

BRANCA, Eleonora. ‘Yet, it moves…’: The Dynamic Evolution of State immunity in the ‘Comfort Women’ case. EJIL: Talk!, 7 Apr. 2021.

BRAZIL. Tribunal Marítimo. Processo nº 812/1943. Acórdão. B/P “CHANGRI-LÁ”. Naufrágio de barco de pesca, com a perda total da embarcação e a morte de dez tripulantes: José da Costa Marques, Deocleciano Pereira da Costa, Otávio Vicente Martins, Ildefonso Alves da Silva, Manoel Gonçalves Marques, Manoel Francisco dos Santos Júnior, Otávio Alcântara, Zacarias da Costa Marques, Apúlio Vieira de Aguiar e Joaquim Mata de Navarra. Oficiar à Diretoria de Portos e Costas e ao Serviço de Documentação da Marinha com o teor desta decisão, para as medidas competentes. Ataque pela artilharia do submarino alemão U-199, durante a 2ª Guerra Mundial. Judgement of 31 July 2001. Available at: <>.

DE SENA, Pasquale; DE VITTOR Francesca. State Immunity and Human Rights: the Italian Supreme Court Decision on the Ferrini Case. European Journal of International Law, v. 16, 2005, pp. 89-112.

FONTANELLI, Filippo. Damage-assessment on the building of international law. Völkerrechtsblog, 15 Dec. 2014.

FRANCHINI, Daniel. South Korea’s denial of Japan’s immunity for international crimes: Restricting or bypassing the law of state immunity? Völkerrechtsblog, 18 Jan. 2021.

GARCIA, Márcio e MADRUGA FILHO, Antenor Pereira (coord.). A Imunidade de Jurisdição e o Judiciário Brasileiro. Brasília: CEDI, 2002.

ICJ. Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (Germany v. Italy: Greece intervening), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2012.

ILC. Draft Conclusions on Identification of Customary International Law, with Commentaries. Yearbook of the International Law Commission, v. II, part 2, 2018.

KUNZ, Rafaella. Teaching the World Court Makes a Bad Case: Revisiting the Relationship Between Domestic Courts and the ICJ. In: VOLPE, Valentina; PETERS, Anne; BATTINI, Stefano (eds), Remedies against Immunity? Springer, 2021, pp. 259-280.

LIMA, Lucas Carlos. Regionalism in the codification of international law: the experience of the Inter-American Juridical Committee. In: ANNONI, Alessandra; FORLATI, Serena; SALERNO, Francesco. (Org.). La codificazione nell’ordinamento internazionale e dell'Unione europea. Società Italiana di Diritto Internazionale (SIDI). 1ed.Napoli: Editoriale Scientifica, 2019, p. 393-407.

MADRUGA FILHO, Antenor Pereira. A Renúncia à Imunidade de Jurisdição pelo Estado Brasileiro e o Novo Direito da Imunidade de Jurisdição. Rio de Janeiro: Renovar, 2003.

MOLL, Leandro de Oliveira. Imunidades Internacionais: Tribunais Nacionais ante a Realidade das Organizações Internacionais. 2 ed. Brasília: FUNAG, 2011.

PETERS, Anne; VOLPE, Valentina. Introduction: In search for conciliation. VerfBlog, 11 May 2017.

SALIBA, Aziz Tuffi; MAIA, Tainá. Changri-lá, Antônio Apúlio Aguiar Coutinho and others v The Federal Republic of Germany, Reparation proceedings, Ordinary appeal judgment, No 2008/0042275-3, ILDC 1160 (BR 2008). In: NOLLKAEMPER, André; REINISCH, August. (Org.). Oxford Reports on International Law in Domestic Courts. 2ed.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

PALCHETTI, Paolo. Italian concerns after sentenza 238/2014: possible reactions, possible solutions. Verfassungsblog. 11 Mai 2017.

PALCHETTI, Paolo. Judgment 238/2014 of the Italian Constitutional Court: In search of a way out. QIL-Questions of international law, Zoom out II, 2014, pp. 44-47.

SHAN, Wenhua; WANG, Peng. Divergent Views on State Immunity in the International Community. In: RUY, Tom; ANGELET, Nocolas; FERRO, Luca (eds.). The Cambridge Handbook of Immunities and International Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. p. 61-78.

SOARES, Guido Fernando Silva. Órgãos dos Estados nas Relações Internacionais: Formas da Diplomacia e as Imunidades. Rio de Janeiro: Forense, 2001.

TAMS, Christian J. A Dangerous Last Line of Deference: Or, a Roman Court Goes Lutheran. In: VOLPE, Valentina; PETERS, Anne; BATTINI, Stefano (eds), Remedies against Immunity? Springer, 2021, pp. 237-258.

TIBURCIO, Carmen. Extensão e Limites da Jurisdição Brasileira: Competência Internacional e Imunidade de Jurisdição. Salvador: JusPODIVM, 2019.

WÜRKERT, Felix. No custom restricting state immunity for grave breaches ‒ well why not?. Völkerrechtsblog, 11 Dec. 2014.


ISSN 2236-997X (impresso) - ISSN 2237-1036 (on-line)

Desenvolvido por:

Logomarca da Lepidus Tecnologia