Mardi 21 Mai 2019  
 

N°91 - Troisième trimestre 2010

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  Mme/Mrs Joanna SCHMIDT-SZALEWSKI

The Civil Status as a stake of international cooperation

By Mrs Joanna Schmidt-Szalewski
Secretary General of the Commission on Civil Status (ICCS),Professor emeritus at the University of Strasbourg


The International Commission on Civil Status (ICCS), an intergovernmental organisation founded in Amsterdam in September 1948, was set up for the purpose of promoting international co-operation in civil-status matters and improving the operation of national civil-status departments.
It was recognised in December 1949 by an exchange of letters between Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. To specify the arrangements for the exchange of documentation and the conditions on which additional States could accede, the High Contracting Parties signed a Protocol in Bern on 25 September 1950 and an additional Protocol in Luxembourg on 25 September 1952.
Presently, the ICCS has fifteen member States: Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom; and Mexico which is in the process of accession. In addition, eight States have observer status: Cyprus, Holy See, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovenia and Sweden. Each member State establishes a National Section responsible for promoting the aims of the ICCS and ensuring liaison with the other sections through the Secretary General.
The ICCS is presently presided by Mr Paul Parr, Deputy Registrar General for Scotland, President of the British Section. Mr Jonathan Sharpe, Solicitor, serves as Deputy Secretary General, while the administration is directed by Mrs Chantal Nast.
The aims of the ICCS are the following: to facilitate international co-operation and the exchange of information in civil-status matters; to draw up conventions and recommendations; to compile and keep up to date a documentation on civil-status matters; to provide the member States with information and expert opinions; to carry out legal and technical studies.

International Cooperation
Since 1948 the ICCS has drawn up 32 Conventions, 26 of which are currently in force, and 9 Recommendations. The Conventions are generally open to signature not only by ICCS member States but also by other States, notably those which are members of the Council of Europe or the European Union.
Among the conventions which had the greatest practical impact, the following may be cited: Convention on the issue of multilingual extracts from civil-status records (signed at Vienna on 8 September 1976); Convention on the exemption from legalisation of certain records and documents (signed at Athens on 15 September 1977); Convention on the coding of entries appearing in civil-status documents (signed at Brussels on 6 September 1995); Convention on the international exchange of information relating to civil status (signed at Neuchâtel on 12 September 1997).
A working group is examining possible modifications to these Conventions. They would relate to the recipients of the data communicated, the use that is made thereof and supplementary information that might be the object of automatic exchanges. New international civil-status forms are being prepared.
Some recent Recommendations may be cited: Recommendation relating to international co-operation in the matter of administrative assistance to asylum-seekers (adopted in Patras on 8 September 1989); Recommendation on the harmonisation of extracts from civil-status records (adopted in Madrid on 7 September 1990); Recommendation on the computerisation of civil status (adopted in Strasbourg on 21 March 1991); Recommendation on combating documentary fraud with respect to civil status (adopted in Strasbourg on 17 March 2005).
The ICCS Internet site (www.ciec1.org) offers on line general information on the ICCS, the text of the Conventions and Recommendations drawn up under its auspices, the studies already published and, for the most recent years, the annual reports of the Secretary General, which are submitted to the General Assembly and present the changes made to legislation in the member States. These documents are written in French, the Commission's only official language, but an English translation of the greater part of the materials can also be found on the site, as well as various national documents and comparative-law studies drafted in several languages.
The ICCS has also entered several agreements and keeps cooperating with other international organisations (Council of Europe; European Union; The Hague Conference on Private International Law), as well as third countries and various national organisations of civil registrars and the European Federation of Civil Registrars.
The Documentation Work
As part of its documentation work, the ICCS has produced a large volume entitled Guide pratique international de l'état civil (International Practical Guide on Civil Status). This work of more than 500 pages contains a comparative-law study in the field of personal status and, besides being of interest to academics, aims to facilitate the task of civil registrars in the different ICCS member States: when they have occasion to receive documents concerning foreigners, registrars need to know the principles governing the personal status of those foreigners.
The Guide includes a standard-form general introduction presenting a brief overview of the organisation of civil status in each country and in some States holding observer status. The guide was published by Editions Berger Levrault (Paris) from 1985 to 2000, but in March 2001 they decided to cease publication of the work since the costs of producing were too high. The ICCS decided to continue both its updating and its fuller revision, by completing the questionnaire and the replies from the various countries, with a view to achieving the greatest possible harmonisation. Since it ceased to be marketed, the guide has been fully available for consultation without charge on the ICCS Internet site.

Legal and Technical Studies
To promote international cooperation on civil-status matters and to improve the national civil-status departments operation, the ICCS also carries out legal and technical studies.
- Studies on "Fraud with respect to civil status"
A working group meets regularly to exchange information, notably on cases of fraud (false declarations, falsification of records, bogus marriages or fraudulent acknowledgments of paternity, etc.) and on legal and technical measures implemented (use of protected paper, an increase in direct exchanges of information between administrative authorities).
At the end of 1996, the ICCS published, in French, a study on “Fraud with respect to civil status” in the Revue Critique de Droit International Privé (Dalloz-Sirey, Paris, 1996, pp. 541-571). Translations of this study, into inter alia English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Polish, have since been prepared and published. The study was revised and updated in 2000 and supplemented by a note on “the compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights of legislative and regulatory measures taken by States to combat fraud with respect to civil status”. The updated version was published by the ICCS Secretariat General, in English and French, in December 2000; both versions can be consulted on the ICCS Internet site.. A specific comparative study devoted to the question of ‘bogus marriages’ and another one relating to the question of persons without documents and persons lacking civil-status documents (“sans papiers”) were updated at the end of 2009, and can be consulted on the ICCS Internet site.
- Study on "The application in the civil-status sphere of the principles set out in the European Convention on Human Rights"
The ICCS has investigated the extent to which different countries' national legislation complies with the principles set out in the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, which guarantees respect for private and family life and compared their methods of implementing these principles. At the end of 1990 the ICCS began a series of studies to ascertain the practical arrangements for guaranteeing respect for private and family life in the civil-status field, from the angle of the content of and public access to registers as well as in terms of the operation of the civil-status service. A synopsis drafted in the form of a comparative study was published in its  final version, in French, in the Revue trimestrielle de droit européen (Dalloz-Sirey, Paris, 1997, pp. 653-684). It can be consulted on the ICCS Internet site.
- Study on transsexualism
As part of its work to prepare a Convention that would facilitate the recognition in one country of decisions recording a sex reassignment taken in another, the ICCS envisaged the preparation and publication of a study on transsexualism. The study on "Transsexualisme, état civil, vie privée et familiale dans les Etats de la CIEC" (Transsexualism, civil status and private and family life in ICCS States), was published in the Revue Droit de la Famille (Juris-Classeur, Paris, 1998, No. 12, pp. 3-9). At the request of the Council of Europe, the ICCS prepared a memorandum on “Transsexualism in Europe”, combining the information supplied by its own and Council of Europe member States. A bilingual (English-French) version of this memorandum, supplemented with legislative or administrative texts, international instruments and judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, was published in 2000 (Council of Europe, Strasbourg, June 2000). The French version, updated in September 2002, can be consulted on the ICCS Internet site.
- Study on registration of lifeless children
The information obtained from the National Sections was harmonised and reproduced in a consolidated summary. The study “Etat civil et décès périnatal dans les Etats de la CIEC" (civil status and perinatal death in ICCS States) was published in French in the Private International Law Review (N. Sakkoulas Publishers, Athens, 1998/4B, pp. 291-302) and in La Semaine Juridique, Edition générale (JCP [Juris-Classeur Périodique], Paris, 1999, No. 13, pp. 613-616). A bilingual version (English-French) was prepared and published by the Secretariat General in December 1999; both versions can be consulted on the ICCS Internet site.
- "International Commission on Civil Status (ICCS)"
This monograph was published, in English, in the "International Encyclopaedia of Laws" (Kluwer Law International, The Hague, London, Boston, International Encyclopaedia of Laws, "Intergovernmental Organizations", Supplement 4, January 1999 and "Family and Succession Law", Supplement 14, September 2001). It presents the ICCS and its activities since its creation and describes its achievements in the areas of exchange of documentation, circulation of records and decisions and co-operation between authorities and its contribution to the harmonisation of the law of persons and family law. In March 2000 the Secretariat General, with the publisher's authorisation, prepared and distributed, on a limited basis, a bilingual (English- French) version of the study. An updated version was published in October 2007. The French version can be consulted on the ICCS Internet site.
- Study on the establishment of maternal descent and surrogate motherhood
On the basis of the replies to an inquiry received from the national sections, the Secretariat General prepared a synopsis, which extends also to more general questions relating to the establishment of maternal descent and, notably, anonymous childbirth. This synopsis, written in French and entitled "L'établissement de la filiation maternelle et les maternités de substitution dans les Etats de la CIEC" and updated to 20 February 2003, is available for consultation on the ICCS Internet site. This question continues to be addressed by the ICCS in 2009-2010.
- ICCS Colloquy on "Current problems in the law of persons in the ICCS States"
On 26 March 1999, to mark its fifty years of existence, the ICCS organised a Colloquy in Strasbourg, at which French and foreign speakers addressed legal issues relating to married couples and unmarried couples (registered partners, cohabitation contracts), the legal relationship between children born out of wedlock and their parents and how that relationship is affected when a woman gives birth anonymously, when a child is adopted, and when paternity is established under comparative law. The Colloquy Proceedings were prepared and published by the Secretariat General, in English and French, in January 2000; both versions can be consulted on the ICCS Internet site.
­­- ICCS Colloquy on “The Civil Status in the XXIth Century: Dusk or Dawn?”
On the occasion of its 60th anniversary, the ICCS held an international colloquy on March 13-14, 2009 in Strasbourg. Several specialists coming from various countries explained the many aspects of the civil status. Lawyers, sociologists, psychologists, historians, civil status officers spoke about subjects such as “the functions of civil status”, “security and civil status”, “civil status and new technologies”, etc. The reports are available on the ICCS website in French and in English.

Towards an electronic platform for exchanging civil-status data
In September 2008, the ICCS decided to develop the prototype of an electronic platform for exchanging civil-status data. This platform aims to prepare the forms appended to ICCS conventions, in order to allow them to be exchanged electronically. There are also plans to organise training for civil registrars in the use of the future electronic system. This project aims to encourage European cooperation in relation to civil status, and places itself within the context of the European Commission’s Stockholm Program, one of whose ambitions is to facilitate citizens’ access to administrative documents and public registers. A demonstration of the prototype is available at www.iccs-plateforme.org. The ICCS is preparing an international Convention setting out the terms and conditions for the use of the future platform.

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