On February 3, 2012, the International Court of Justice in The Hague delivered its judgment in the case on Jurisdictional Immunities of the State, Germany v. Italy: Greece intervening. The Court finds that Italy violated its obligation to respect Germany's immunity by permitting civil claims based on violations of international humanitarian law committed by the German Reich between 1943 and 1945 to be brought against Germany.
The key issue in the dispute was not whether those acts were illegal but whether the Italian courts had to accord Germany immunity in the proceedings over claims for compensation. Whether immunity might apply in criminal proceedings against an official of the State was not an issue in this case because the matter involved solely civil claims.
The rules of sovereign immunity are determined to decide if the courts of one state may exercise jurisdiction in respect of another state; they are not conditioned on the question whether the conduct at issue was lawful or unlawful. The Court concludes that, even on the assumption that the proceedings in the Italian courts involved violations of ius cogens, the applicability of the customary international law of sovereign immunity was not affected.
Further, a claim of immunity cannot depend on the existence of effective alternative means of securing redress. Customary international law continues to require that a state be accorded immunity in proceedings for torts supposedly committed on the territory of another state in the course of an armed conflict or if the state is accused of serious violations of international human rights. Thus, the rule of tort exception cannot justify a denial of state immunity.
In addition, the Court finds that Italy breached its obligations by declaring enforceable in Italy civil judgments rendered by Greek courts for violations of international humanitarian law committed in Greece by the German Reich during the Distomo massacre. -- Christina Theocharopoulou, law student, Heidelberg University Law School, Heidelberg.