ICJ asked to use 'weapon of law' to curb German support for Israel

Nicaragua asks court 'on behalf of the Palestinian people' to end German arms sales fuelling Gaza war

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Judges in The Hague were asked on Monday to use the “weapon of law” to curtail Germany's support for Israel, which they were told is enabling genocide in Gaza.

Nicaragua brought Germany before the International Court of Justice in the Dutch capital “on behalf of the Palestinian people” to accuse it of supplying arms crucial to Israel's “campaign of destruction”.

Lawyers said Germany's funding cut to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, was “facilitating Israeli abuses” and “aggravating the humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

“The nightmare is increasing every single day,” lawyer Daniel Muller said.

Nicaragua is asking a bench of 16 judges to order Germany to end military support for Israel and reinstate funding for UNRWA.

Germany, which denies the claim it is failing to prevent genocide or uphold international law, will take the stand in reply on Tuesday.

The ICJ in January ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocide, in response to a claim brought by South Africa.

Israel denies it is committing genocide but with attacks showing no signs of ceasing, pressure is rising on its allies, such as Germany, to end their military support.

Judges in The Hague – led by Lebanon's Nawaf Salam, the ICJ's new president – agreed to hear the case filed by Nicaragua last month.

The Central American country, which is not represented on the bench, nominated Jordan's former prime minister Awn Alkhasawneh as a temporary judge.

In two hours of submissions on Monday, Nicaragua said:

· Germany has stepped up military exports to Israel despite its “undeniable knowledge” that “grave violations” are occurring in Gaza

· A steady arms stockpile is “crucial to Israel's pursuit of the attacks” regardless of whether German weapons are actually used to fire on Gaza

· Funding was halted to UNRWA “on the sole say-so of the Israeli government” and “in full knowledge of the consequences”

· These actions breach Germany's commitment under international law to prevent genocide, not be complicit in it, and uphold the laws of war

· A likely effort to dismiss the case because the claim of genocide is against Israel should not succeed, because it is “Germany, not any other state” accused in this case

· Germany's “special responsibility” arising from the Holocaust should not conflate protecting Jewish life with supporting the Israeli government

· While Germany has adopted a more critical tone on Israel, it is doing no more than “say please, without doing what it is supposed to do” to uphold international law.

Nicaragua's ruling left-wing Sandinistas have long-standing ties to the Palestinian cause.

The country is seeking an emergency order because there is a risk of “irreparable harm” to the rights of Palestinians to be protected from genocide, Mr Muller said.

“Germany was and is aware of the situation and in any event could not have ignored it,” he said, as he told judges the world “cannot turn its eyes away”.

“Despite the very many warnings, alarming reports and messages … Germany continues to assure and implement full support for Israel for its war against Gaza and its population.”

He said Germany's efforts to increase aid to Palestinians were a “pathetic excuse” when it continues to “furnish the weapons and military equipment that are used to kill and annihilate them”.

Preparing for Germany's defence

Germany has revealed little of what its legal defence will be on Tuesday, saying merely it “rejects all allegations” it is breaching international law.

Nicaragua made several attempts to anticipate likely counterarguments.

Lawyers predict Germany will turn to a precedent from 1954, suggesting the case could be thrown out because Israel is not part of the proceedings.

The “indispensable third-party” rule could dictate that Israel would have to answer to the claim of genocide because Germany could be found complicit in it.

Appearing for Nicaragua, French law professor Alain Pellet said the case turned not on Israel's actions but on Germany's “own breaches of its own international obligations”.

“Nicaragua accuses it of not complying with its own obligations, as Germany, under international humanitarian law, that it must comply with in any circumstances,” he said.

“Far from doing so, Germany is going ahead with business as usual – or rather, business better than usual. Arms sales have not ceased. They have increased significantly.”

The court heard Germany's resolve to make amends for the Holocaust was “understandable and laudable” but should not be “confused and equated” with support for the Israeli leadership.

“Germany is shocked that we could, that we even dare, to accuse it of assisting in genocide,” Mr Pellet told the court.

“However, nobody owns the trademark of genocide. No state – not Israel, not Germany – can be free of the fundamental rules of international law.

“You must, members of the court, recall this with the means that are yours, the weapon of law, and this is what Nicaragua is asking of you.”

The hearings on Monday and Tuesday are an initial round in which judges are being asked to order “provisional measures” to protect rights being invoked.

A provisional order could be made in weeks, while a consideration of whether Germany is actually in breach of international law could take years.

In the South Africa-Israel case, the court ordered Israel to comply with its duties without specifically ordering an end to its offensive in Gaza.

Carlos Arguello Gomez, Nicaragua's ambassador in The Hague, urged judges not to make a vague order this time that would “not be effective”.

“The Palestinians are being denied their rights to protection,” he said. “They are dying and being injured, and having their homeland reduced to rubble because of it.

Germany is ignoring its obligations and “this has got to stop”, he said.

Updated: April 08, 2024, 1:29 PM