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Germany

Italian Court Upholds Compensation For Nazi Victims

Italy's highest court has issued a written judgment ordering Germany to pay damages to the families of Italian World War Two victims of Nazi war crimes. But Germany says the ruling is judicially wrong.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague

The International Court of Justice in The Hague will also have a say in the case

Italy's highest court has published its written judgment ordering Germany to pay compensation to the families of Italian World War Two victims of Nazi war crimes. The Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome made its ruling last October.

But Germany last month instituted proceedings against Italy at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, claiming Italy was failing to respect its jurisdictional immunity as a sovereign state.

German authorities have expressed concern that if the Italian ruling is allowed to stand, it may open a Pandora's Box with "hundreds" of similar individual cases seeking compensation from Berlin likely to be filed around Europe.

The German government has stated that seeking compensation for World War Two crimes was "morally understandable, but it is, in judicial terms, the wrong way to address this injustice, and so this ruling is not acceptable for us."

Germany said financial compensation claims were closed under a 1961 treaty between the two countries, under which the German government paid millions of dollars in compensation. However, the Court of Cassation has ruled that no exemption treaty with Germany can block the damages.

Immunity crucial for international law

The verdict was the first of its kind in Italy. The case involved the killing of 203 men, women and children in Civitella, in the central province of Tuscany on June 29, 1944.

The Casaglia cemetery

Some of the victims are buried in the Casaglia cemetery

The call for compensation claim resulted from the first trial in connection with the massacre against former Sergeant Max Josef Milde, as the last surviving defendant. The 88-year-old lives in Germany, but was sentenced to life in jail in absentia. Milde is unlikely to be extradited.

A military court had ruled in 2007 that the families of two of the victims receive a total of $1 million (756 million euros) in damages.

Experts expect the ICJ to rule in favor of Germany. Otherwise it would endanger one of the most important basic principles of international law: a country's immunity. It prevents among other things that the legal successors of unjust regimes are prosecuted by courts in other countries.

According to most experts on international law, it would be virtually impossible to restore justice between countries following wars without this principle.

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