The International Court of Justice Gives Landmark Ruling on State Immunity
February 3, 2012 – Today, the International Court of Justice has delivered its judgment on the merits of the proceedings instituted by Germany against Italy. The Court’s decision helps clarify several controversial legal issues relating to the jurisdictional immunities enjoyed by States under public international law.
First, the Court holds that, by hearing cases brought by certain individuals against Germany for alleged violations of international humanitarian law during the Second World War, the Italian courts committed a breach of the immunity from jurisdiction to which Germany was entitled. In this respect, the judgment underlines that the acts at stake, whilst being unlawful according to Germany itself, constituted acta jure imperii. It also confirms that in the light of existing customary international law there is no exception to State immunity in case of serious violations of international law or even jus cogens.
Second, the Court rules that, by allowing certain victims of the Second World War to enter a legal charge against a villa in Italy belonging to the German State in order to enforce a judgment ordering Germany to pay them compensation, the Italian authorities committed a breach of Germany’s immunity from execution, since the above villa was used as a cultural center, hence for governmental non-commercial purposes.
Third, the Court considers that, by declaring enforceable in Italy decisions of Greek courts upholding civil claims against Germany for violations of international humanitarian law during the Second World War, the Italian courts committed a breach of the immunity from jurisdiction to which Germany was entitled. Indeed, the Italian courts would have been obliged to grant immunity to Germany if they had been seised of the merits of identical cases.
Finally, the Court decides that Italy must, by enacting appropriate legislation, or by resorting to other methods of its choosing, ensure that the decisions of its courts and those of other judicial authorities infringing the immunity which Germany enjoys under international law cease to have effect.
See the full text of the judgment.