The International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] at The Hague on Monday began hearing arguments from Germany and Italy, which is seeking damages from Germany for crimes committed by Nazis during World War II. In November 2008, Germany filed a lawsuit [ICJ press release, PDF] against Italy in the ICJ in a bid to block new claims [JURIST report] for personal damages resulting from Nazi actions in World War II. Germany is arguing that an October 2008 decision [JURIST report] by Italy's Court of Cassation [official website, in Italian] which ordered Germany to pay 1 million euros (USD $1.3 million) in damages to relatives of civilians killed in the town of Civitella during the war, violated the principle of state immunity [DW report]. The lawyers representing Germany argued before the court that international law would be "atomized" and "politicized" [AP report] if the ICJ were to accept the Italian court's decision. Germany further argues that it has already compensated Italy for Nazi-related damages pursuant to a 1961 treaty. The ICJ is not expected to hand down its decision for several months.
In October 2008 the Court of Cassation awarded the damages [Corriere della Sera report, in Italian] in a case against Max Josef Milde, a German sergeant present at the Civitella attack, who was sentenced in absentia to life in prison. Under Italian law, crime victims may seek civil damages as part of a criminal proceeding. Germany had argued that the 1961 Bonn Treaty, where Germany agreed to pay 40 million marks to Italy for war crimes committed, closed all further financial compensation claims [JURIST report], but the Italian court held the treaty only applied to treatment of the Jews. International agreements that govern situations in which a nation may claim immunity include the European Convention on State Immunity [text], ratified by members of the Council of Europe in 1972, and the UN Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and their Property [text, PDF], adopted in 2004. JURIST Guest Columnist Laurie Blank [academic profile] discusses the implications of sovereign immunity [JURIST op-ed] in cases like Germany v. Italy that involve war crimes and other atrocities.