International Commission on Civil Status (CIEC)
by Kurt Siehr
1. Founding and member states
The International Commission on Civil Status (with the official name in French, Commission Internationale de l'Etat Civil (CIEC)) is an international government organization, which was founded in September 1948 in Amsterdam and recognized in December 1949 by an exchange of letters between the governments of Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The founding document is the Protocol signed in Berne on 25 September 1950.
The present statute of the CIEC is the Règlement de la Commission Internationale de l’Etat Civil, passed in Athens on 19 September 2001, in force since 1 January 2002. According to Art 2 of the Règlement a state may become a member of the CIEC if it is either a contracting party to the European Convention on Human Rights of 4 November 1950 (human rights and fundamental rights (ChFR and ECHR)) or of the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights of 16 December 1966. As of 2010, there are 15 contracting parties to the CIEC: Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Six states (Cyprus, Lithuania, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden and the Vatican) have observer status. Austria renounced membership in 2008. Of these 21 states, 16 states are members of the EU. That comparatively few states have decided to join the CIEC may be explained by two circumstances. On the one hand not all states have a system of personal law as it prevails in Europe, with diligently kept and internationally coordinated entries in personal registers, which are subject to a rebuttable presumption as to their accuracy (eg § 60 German PStG, Art 9 Swiss Civil Code (ZGB)). On the other hand, the regular meetings of the general assembly in March and September of every year in a European city (see 9(1) of the Règlement) prevent some states from meeting the costs of these meetings. In addition, there may be other reasons not to join the CIEC, for instance its Eurocentric character and the use of French as its official language. Additionally, the general assembly does not seem to have any interest in encouraging any non-European state without a national system of registration of personal data to participate. The function of the CIEC is not so much to draft Conventions and to recommend their ratification. Conventions must also be incorporated into domestic law on the registration of personal status and to be applied daily by a well-trained bureaucracy. Where such instruments are missing, membership of the CIEC makes little sense.
The governing bodies of the CIEC are (1) the General Assembly (l’Assemblée Générale) of the contracting states, which generally meets twice a year in March and September in a European city; (2) the Bureau (le Bureau) consisting of the Presidents of the national sections who also convene twice a year; (3) the President (le Président) who is elected for a term of two years from the members of the Bureau; and (4) the Secretary General (le Secrétaire Général), the Vice Secretary General (le Secrétaire Général adjoint) and the personnel of the office. The Secretary General is nominated for three years by the Bureau and his term in office cannot be extended. The official language is French.
The CIEC has agreed with the Council of Europe (1955), the Hague Conference on PIL (1969), the United Nations (1981) and the European Economic Community (1983) that these organizations should coordinate and share information about any of their projects on personal status and that these organizations should, where possible, leave CIEC to deal with matters on personal status. These agreements can be found on the website of CIEC (<www.ciec1.org>).
The address of the Secretary General of CIEC is: 3 Place Arnold, F- 67000 Strasbourg.
3. Operation of the CIEC
According to the Statute of 19 September 2001, it is the task of CIEC ‘to facilitate international cooperation in the field of personal registration and to foster the exchange of information between the national registrars’. In order to achieve this, the CIEC prepares recommendations and Conventions, collects national legislation and case law of the contracting states on personal registration, gives information to the contracting states based on this documentation, coordinates its work with other organizations and, within its competence, cooperates with third countries. Information about the work of CIEC and of the national sections may be regularly found in certain special periodicals as, for example, Österreichisches Standesamt (ÖStA), the German monthly Das Standesamt (StAZ) and the Swiss Zeitschrift für Zivilstandswesen (ZZW).
As of 2010 the CIEC has prepared and drafted 32 Conventions and nine recommendations, which can be found on the Commission’s website in several languages.
Twenty-six of the Conventions drafted by the CIEC are in force. These Conventions deal mainly with problems of personal status, with legal assistance between registrars of personal status, with the law of nationality and with questions of private international law and the law of international civil procedure.
To unify or harmonize the substantive law of civil registers in the member states is the principal goal of the CIEC. Hence the CIEC has attempted to unify the establishment of maternal descent of natural children (Convention No 6), to facilitate the celebration of marriages abroad by foregoing certain formalities (Convention No 7), to unify the rectification of civil status records (Convention No 9), to unify the recording of surnames and forenames in civil status registers (Convention No 14), to introduce an international family record book (Convention No 15) and to issue multilingual extracts from civil status records (Convention No 16).
Many Conventions deal with legal cooperation between the authorities responsible for civil registration. Some of the Conventions deal with information provided mutually by national civil registrars (Conventions No 1, 2, 3, 8, 23–27 and 30); regulate the issue of certificates of legal capacity to marry (Convention No 20) or the issue of a certificate of differing surnames (Convention No 21); and address cooperation in the matter of administrative assistance to refugees (Convention No 22).
The law of nationality is not the focus of the CIEC but the exchange of information relating to acquisition of nationality has been agreed upon (Convention No 8) and efforts have been made to reduce the number of cases of statelessness (Convention No 13). In addition to this, the member states are encouraged to introduce in their jurisdiction a certificate of nationality for their citizens (Convention No 28).
In the field of private international law the CIEC has been rather cautious. The CIEC tried to fix substantive rules on changes of surnames and forenames (Convention No 4) and to agree upon the law applicable to surnames and forenames (Convention No 19) and upon rules on recognition of surnames (Convention No 31). Furthermore, three Conventions deal with the law applicable to legitimation by subsequent marriage (Convention No 12), to the voluntary acknowledgement of children born out of wedlock (Convention No 18) and on the recognition of registered partnerships (Convention No 32). These Conventions were not very successful. The Conventions on the recognition of illegitimate children, on names formed by marriage and at birth and on the recognition of registered partnerships never entered into force. The Convention on legitimation is outdated because the concept is no longer known in most jurisdictions and the Conventions regarding names are valid only in very few member states. As soon as the EU becomes active in the field of persons and family law (family law (international)) the pre-existing Conventions of the CIEC will become obsolete and new Conventions on this matter will become the exception rather than the rule.
Finally, the CIEC has also become active in the field of international civil procedure. With respect to jurisdiction of authorities, CIEC has regulated the competence for receiving declarations of acknowledgement of natural children or for the establishment of maternal descent of natural children (Conventions No 5 and 6) and for the establishment of death in certain cases (Convention No 10). Certain personal status records no longer require legalisation (Conventions No 2 and 17) and the recognition of decisions relating to the matrimonial bond (Convention No 11) and on recognition of decisions recording a sex reassignment (Convention No 29) have been covered. Additionally, the recognition of registered partnerships is dealt with in Convention No 32. Here, too, the CIEC will have to make way for the EU. The Convention on recognition of court decisions in matrimonial matters, for example, has not been accepted by some Member States of the EU (eg Germany) because it may be in conflict with Regulation 2201/2003 on matters of divorce and parental responsibility.
The CIEC recommendations deal primarily with issues concerning national law and its structure (eg the Madrid Recommendation No 7 of 7 September 1990 on the harmonization of extracts from civil status records). These recommendations are addressed to national governments, recommend the taking of certain actions and do not require ratification.
The Bureau of CIEC, based on an extensive questionnaire and the national responses to that questionnaire, has documented the law of personal registration of all member states, which is also accessible on the internet and which is an authoritative source of information about the law of CIEC member states in this field.
4. Significance of the CIEC
The International Commission on Personal Status has in more than 50 years of its existence contributed considerably to the improvement und unification of the law of personal status. Substantially unified forms, registers and certificates and easily accessible information facilitate cross-border relations between member states and avoid burdensome bureaucracy. This success was and still is only possible because highly specialized professionals with many years of first-hand experience in the law of personal status take part in the General Assembly, submit their proposals and—aided by the relationships and mutual understanding fostered by the biannual meetings—come to reasonable and practical solutions. For a specialist international organization this is a perfect situation. The work of the CIEC is a great reflection of its success.
During the last few years, compared with the 40 years before, the work of the CIEC has diminished. Two factors may be held responsible for this trend. First, the CIEC seems to have accomplished its goal of achieving smooth cooperation between national authorities responsible for civil status. Secondly, the European Union has also become active in the field of the law of persons and family law, thus preventing the Member States of the EU from engaging in the same field of law within an extra-Union organization. Austria has already withdrawn from CIEC, leaving it on 8 April 2008 (Österreichisches Standesamt (2008) 68).
Commission Internationale de l’Etat Civil, Conventions et Recommandations (C&R) (1956-1987); Ernst Götz, ‘15 Jahre Internationale Zivilstandskommission (CIEC)’  ZZW 282; Ernst Götz, ‘Quinze années d’activité de la Commission internationale de l’état civil (CIEC)’  ZZW 258; Pierre Lalive d’Epinay, ‘Die wissenschaftliche Leistung der Internationalen Zivilstandskommission (CIEC)’  Das Standesamt (StAZ) 273; Pierre Lalive d’Epinay, ‘L’œuvre scientifique de la Commission internationale de l’état civil’  ZZW 273; Commission Internationale de l’Etat Civil, Supplément (C&R Suppl) (1988, 2001); Isabelle Guyon-Renard, ‘La fraude en matière d’état civil dans les Etats membres de la CIEC’ (1996) 85 Rev crit dr int priv 541; Isabelle Guyon-Renard, Fraud with Respect to Civil Status in ICCS Member States (2000); Jacques Massip, Frits Hondius, Chantal Nast, Commission Internationale de l’Etat Civil (CIEC)—International Commission on Civil Status (ICCS) (2000).