Central Bank Immunity, Sanctions, and Sovereign Wealth Funds

41 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2023 Last revised: 12 Apr 2023

Date Written: February 18, 2023


Central bank assets held in foreign countries are entitled to immunity from execution under international law. Even as foreign sovereign immunity in general has become less absolute over time, the trend has been towards greater protection for foreign central bank assets. As countries expand their use of central banks, however, recent cases have limited immunity for certain kinds of sovereign wealth funds held by central banks. Sanctions on foreign central bank assets have also become more common, raising issues about the relationship between central bank immunity and the recognition of governments, the relationship between immunity and executive actions, and the denial of central bank immunity as a countermeasure.

This symposium essay explores recent developments in central bank immunity focusing on sovereign wealth fund litigation in Sweden, U.S. sanctions on Afghan central bank assets, and the global response to sanctions imposed on Russian central banks following the invasion of Ukraine. Some of these actions and cases do not and should not implicate foreign sovereign immunity. However, proposals to confiscate Russian central bank assets and U.S. litigation to turn Afghan central bank assets over to private plaintiffs, even if presented as countermeasures to secure reparations, would undermine significantly one of the increasingly rare areas of international economic law around which there is a global consensus: the immunity of foreign central banks from measures of execution.

Keywords: immunity, central banks, countermeasures, foreign sovereign immunity, sovereign wealth funds, sanctions, International economic law, customary international law

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

(Wuerth) Brunk, Ingrid, Central Bank Immunity, Sanctions, and Sovereign Wealth Funds (February 18, 2023). George Washington Law Review, 2023, Vanderbilt Law Research Paper 23-12, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4363261 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4363261

Ingrid (Wuerth) Brunk (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

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