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German government sued over weapons sold to Israel

May 30, 2024

Human rights lawyer Alexander Schwarz told DW there was "reasonable grounds to believe" Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza with the kind of weapons it is getting from Germany.

Human rights lawyer Alexander Schwarz stand behind a DW microphone
Schwarz told DW his organization was planning another lawsuit over weapon componentsImage: DW

The German government is violating its international obligations by shipping weapons to Israel, human rights lawyer Alexander Schwarz said in an interview with DW's chief political correspondent Nina Haase on Thursday.

Schwarz is deputy program director of the International Crimes and Accountability Program at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). The organization is suing the government before a federal court in Berlin, hoping to stop the weapon exports.

According to Schwarz, Germany is delivering weapons including bazookas, ammunition and tank engines to Israel.

Berlin 'violating' arms trade obligation: German lawyer

The ECCHR has "reasonable grounds to believe that with these kind of weapons, Israel is committing crimes against civilians in Gaza. Crimes consisting of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as recently confirmed by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court," Schwarz told DW.

Israel has denied committing war crimes, insisting it was targeting Hamas militants. Hamas is labeled as a terror group by the US, the EU, and others.

'Israel has to respect humanitarian law'

Talking to DW, Schwarz said his organization examined evidence of alleged crimes which include videos, photos and witness statements.

"We used international reports from the UN, from Human Rights Watch and other organizations that really have a huge number of incidents," he said. "And as well we see online, for example, on social media, we see incidents and evidence delivered by members of the IDF themselves by showing they are destroying, for example, civilian objects."

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The human rights lawyer said that Israel had an "inherent right" to self defense.

However, "within self-defense, Israel has to respect humanitarian law, which from our point of view it doesn't," he added.

"[W]e have a lot of incidents that Israel is violating these rules, for example, in direct attacks on the civilian population or the unproportional attacks of civilian objects and civilian population."

Weapons of war vs weapons components

Germany is the second-largest supplier to Israel, albeit a distant second to the US, supplying €326.5 million ($351 million) in 2023.

The lawsuit before the Berlin court applies only to what the German law labels "weapons of war" such as tanks, bombs and projectile weapons. These weapons constitute only 2% of the exports to Israel. Schwarz said ECCHR is planning to file another lawsuit covering the remaining 98% before a different court in Frankfurt.

He also told DW that, according to information available to ECCHR, Germany had already stopped delivering any weapons of war to Israel.

"But maybe it's only a question of time until they will do again."

Germany must obey ICC warrants: Schwarz

The lawyer also commented on the top prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) requesting — though yet not obtaining — arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Hamas leaders.

According to Schwarz, Germany would be obliged to act on any valid arrest warrant from the ICC.

Would Germany actually arrest Israel's Netanyahu?

Under the rule of law "of course the legal situation is quite clear," Schwarz said.

"And this means that we can't override these rules by political concepts," he said.

dj/msh (DW material)