International court ruling: immunity for Nazi-era war crimes


THE UN’s highest court has confirmed German immunity from prosecution over cases involving Nazi-era war crimes.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague threw out a ruling by Italy’s highest court holding Germany liable for the 1944 Nazi massacre of 250 Italian partisans in Tuscany.

Germany went to The Hague, arguing that a 1961 compensation payment of DM40 million to Italy had fulfilled German obligations under international law. It argued that no court had jurisdiction to force a foreign country to pay reparations and that the Italian ruling violated international rules on foreign state immunity.

Finding in favour of Germany, court president Hisashi Owada said: “The action of Italian courts in denying German immunity . . . constitutes a breach of the obligation owed by the Italian state to Germany.” Italy argued that the claims were admissible because the Nazi atrocities amounted to “international crimes” and thus took precedence over a country’s immunity.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle welcomed the ruling as bringing “legal certainty” to such claims, but said it did not diminish Germany’s responsibility for Nazi crimes or minimise the suffering of Nazi victims.

“The federal government has always recognised their pain,” he said.

The Italians said they were “not disappointed” by the case but noted that Italians interned by Germany during the war had never been included in previous reparation payments. In its ruling, the court noted this fact, with “surprise and regret”.

The confirmation of Germany’s immunity in the case came as no surprise to legal observers but was criticised by Amnesty International as a “great step backwards in the protection of international human rights”.

The ruling leaves international law unchanged, confirming that families of modern-day victims of human rights abuses – from Afghanistan to Iraq – have no legal recourse in The Hague.