Does ALMA have immunity in Chile?
ALMA and all the international observatories are non-profit entities funded by governments of other countries. As such, being treated in Chile as international organizations, operating under a well-defined set of rules is a highly effective form of governance. By being granted this special status, the observatories enter into a number of commitments in terms of cooperation with the host state. Such cooperation gives important advantages to Chile, for example in areas of scientific, engineering and technological development.
In which cases does immunity of jurisdiction apply to the observatories? Does it apply to all of them equally?
The agreements under which the observatories operate clearly state that the observatories shall at all times cooperate with the Chilean authorities when applying immunities, and the observatories have a long record of honoring this commitment.
As far as ALMA is concerned, labor immunities are never invoked. ALMA follows the Chilean labor code for its local staff members and goes to labor courts when required to do so, following court resolutions to the letter. ALMA has always negotiated collectively with its workers, strictly following the Chilean labor code and has done so in collaboration with the Labor Directorate (Dirección del Trabajo).
There is a second type of immunities, related to the territorial inviolability of the site and physical installations (“Inmunidades de Sede”). Such immunities are administered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is the interface between the observatories and the Chilean government. In practice, the exercise of these immunities is also subject to the principle of cooperation.
Why is it necessary?
This is common practice in international law and is applied to many organizations with very different natures in which public funding and non-profit goals are the common characteristic, and explains the interest of governments worldwide in hosting international organizations.
The complexities of construction of the infrastructure required by the observatories, the import of high-technology facilities coming from different countries, and the demands of maintenance and operation in which highly specialized personnel must continuously travel from other countries imply that the organizations managing these observatories place great importance on the conditions offered by the potential host countries when deciding where to place such facilities.
What happens in case of inspections by health or labor authorities?
Labor, health and other Chilean authorities will request to enter the ALMA site. While the legal status of the observatories requires a small set of formalities for such inspection to happen, the principle of respect to local labor, safety and health regulations definitely prevails. With that purpose, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established an inspection protocol, which ALMA has committed to follow.