[JURIST] The International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] on Friday ruled [judgment, PDF] that Germany has immunity from claims brought in foreign courts by victims of the Nazi regime. The Court found that a 2008 decision by Italy’s Supreme Court [JURIST report] violated Germany’s sovereign rights by allowing an Italian national to seek reparations in response to his deportation in 1944. Germany appealed this decision to the ICJ and oral arguments were heard [JURIST report] in September 2011. Germany argued that allowing the ruling to stand would violate state immunity and open the floodgates to new claims. The Italian representatives alleged that the Italian court’s ruling was necessary to secure compensation because all other avenues had failed. The ICJ found that this “last resort” notion was not a viable argument, because redress in international law is not based upon the availability of other manners of compensation. The ICJ would not erode state sovereignty for this action:
In so far as the argument based on the combined effect of the circumstances is to be understood as meaning that the national court should balance the different factors, assessing the respective weight, on the one hand, of the various circumstances that might justify the exercise of its jurisdiction, and, on the other hand, of the interests attaching to the protection of immunity, such an approach would disregard the very nature of State immunity.
This ruling by the ICJ is final and binding, effectively ending thousands of reparations claims against Germany.
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