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War Crimes Ruling: Human Rights Take a Back Seat to Sovereignty

February 11, 2012

Hans-Jürgen Schlamp in Spiegel Online:

An international court ruled on Friday that Germany cannot be held liable for paying reparations to the descendents of victims of a massacre perpetrated during World War II in Italy. The verdict has implications far beyond Nazi-era war crimes, and was welcomed by countries far and wide.

It sounds like a paradox: Germany takes Italy to court and wins — and Rome is secretly pleased with the ruling. In addition, several other governments around the world are breathing a sigh of relief on Friday. After all, had the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled differently, people in Afghanistan or Ethiopia, in the Balkans or in Libya, would have been able to take countries to court whose soldiers committed war crimes on their soil. It is a situation that governments everywhere wanted to avoid.

And now they have. The ICJ ruling threw out a 2008 decision by the highest Italian appellate court which sought to force Germany to pay reparations to the families of victims of World War II-era war crimes. “The action of Italian courts in denying German immunity … constitutes a breach of the obligation owed by the Italian state to Germany,” said Hisashi Owada, president of the United Nations court.

Human rights organization Amnesty International said in a statement that the ruling was a “great step backwards in the protection of international human rights.” The group said that the ICJ placed countries’ interests above the protection of human rights. [More]

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