ICJ rejects bid to block German arms sales to Israel

Judges at UN's highest court refuse Nicaragua's request for emergency order - but Germany fails to have case thrown out

Lebanon's Nawaf Salam, the president of the International Court of Justice, read out its order in The Hague on Tuesday. AP
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Germany won a partial victory in The Hague on Tuesday, as judges at the UN's highest court refused to block its arms sales to Israel during wartime.

The International Court of Justice refused a bid by Nicaragua for an emergency order restraining Germany's actions over fears of genocide in Gaza.

Judges accepted Germany's case that its arms sales to Israel are limited, strictly controlled and have shrunk since the early weeks of the war which began on October 7.

“The court concludes that, at present, the circumstances are not such as to require the exercise of its power” to make an emergency ruling, said the court's president, Nawaf Salam of Lebanon.

The 16-judge panel also declined to order that Germany make payments to Palestinian aid agency UNRWA, saying these were voluntary.

However, Germany failed to have the case alleging complicity in genocide thrown out completely, meaning it will move to a further round of arguments.

Judge Salam also issued a warning to all states to abide by their duties concerning the arms trade and the prevention of genocide.

He said the court “remains deeply concerned about the catastrophic living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”.

All parties to the Genocide Convention must “employ all means reasonably available to them to prevent genocide as far as possible”, he said.

The court’s decision was by 15 votes to 1, with only Jordan’s Awn Alkhasawneh, nominated as a temporary judge by Nicaragua, voting in the minority.

He said the court's opinion lacked proper legal reasoning despite the "ongoing human tragedy of semi-apocalyptic proportions" in Gaza.

The court stopped short of making a legal order as it did in January in a case filed by South Africa against Israel.

On that occasion, the court told Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocide in Gaza, while not ordering it to call off its offensive.

Nicaragua then filed its case on March 1 after threatening Germany, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands with legal action over their support for Israel.

It argued that German arms were crucial to an Israeli “campaign of destruction” in Gaza and that a pause in UNRWA funding was “aggravating the humanitarian catastrophe”.

Berlin denied any wrongdoing, saying it was doing “everything it can” to stop human suffering and trying to do right by Israelis and Palestinians.

“It is plainly wrong to suggest that Germany has in any way turned its back on Palestine,” lawyer Christian Tams told the bench.

Germany played down its image as a major arms supplier to Israel, saying materials provided since war broke out last October were mostly of a secondary nature, such as helmets.

The court took note that only four licences for “war weapons” had been granted since October and not all of them were for use on the battlefield, Judge Salam said.

Nicaragua had also sought to force Germany to reinstate funding for UNRWA, which was suspended after Israel alleged some staff had links to Hamas violence.

Judges sided with Germany by saying funding UNRWA was voluntary and that no payments were pending in any case.

Germany last week announced it was resuming support for UNRWA in Gaza after a review found Israel's claims were unproven.

The court left open whether it has the authority to hear Nicaragua's full case but said there was no “manifest lack of jurisdiction” meaning it could be thrown out immediately.

Germany had argued that Israel would have to answer to the charge of genocide before another country could be found complicit in it.

Israeli politicians could separately face arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court, a different court in The Hague.

Israel says it abides by “all the laws of war” and denies the allegation of genocide, saying it is acting in self-defence against Hamas.

Updated: April 30, 2024, 3:01 PM