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Germany presents defense at ICJ over Gaza 'genocide' claim

Published April 9, 2024last updated April 9, 2024

Nicaragua has brought Germany before the International Court of Justice on charges of facilitating genocide in Gaza. Germany has rebuked the claims.

Tania von Uslar-Gleichen and Christian J. Tam, Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow argued on behalf of Germany in case at the ICJ in The Hague
Germany's legal team dismissed Nicaragua's claim that it is aiding in a "genocide" in GazaImage: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu/picture alliance

Germany on Tuesday blamed Nicaragua for having a "one-sided" view of the Israel-Hamas war

Berlin was defending itself at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against charges brought by Nicaragua that its support for Israel enables genocide and breaches of international humanitarian law in Gaza.

The head of Germany's legal team, Tania von Uslar-Gleichen, said Nicaragua's case ignores "facts and the law."

She said the Nicaragua case was rushed, based on flimsy evidence, and should be thrown out due to the lack of jurisdiction.

"Where Germany has provided support to Israel, including in a form of export of arms and other military equipment, the quality and purposes of these supplies have been grossly distorted by Nicaragua," she said. "Unlike Nicaragua, Germany is not blind to the fact that Hamas also has obligations under international humanitarian law." 

Nicaragua has asked the UN's highest court, also known as the World Court, for emergency measures to stop German military arms exports to Israel and reverse its decision to stop funding the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA.

It follows a separate case in January when the court ordered Israel to take "every possible measure" to avoid genocidal acts in its war against Palestinian militants in Gaza, after South Africa accused Israel of genocide.

Israel has denied that its operation in Gaza amounts to genocidal acts, saying it is acting in self-defense after Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on October 7 and killed more than 1,200 people, including around 800 civilians.

German arms exports to Israel

On Monday, Nicaragua pointed out that Berlin remains one of the major arms exporters to Israel. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Germany is the second-largest supplier of arms to Israel after the US.

"The picture presented by Nicaragua is at best inaccurate, and at worst, it is a deliberate misrepresentation of the actual situation," Christian Tams, who is on Germany's legal team, told the court on Tuesday.

He said no artillery shells and no munitions have been exported to Israel since October 2023. 

Tams added arms export licenses are assessed case-by-case and exceed international requirements.

"For every license that is granted, the German government assesses whether there is a clear risk that the particular item, subject to licensing, would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity or great breaches of the Geneva Convention."

Nicaragua argues risk of genocide is clear 

On Monday, Nicaragua argued that Germany is in breach of the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention.

More than 33,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed over the last six months in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-led territory. Various UN and other humanitarian aid agencies have warned Gaza is on the brink of famine.

"There can be no question that Germany [...] was well aware, and is well aware, of at least the serious risk of genocide being committed," Nicaragua's ambassador, Carlos Jose Arguello Gomez, told the court.

Nicaragua takes Germany to the ICJ over arms supply to Israel

Nicaragua asked the ICJ to decide "provisional measures" to order Germany to "immediately suspend its aid to Israel, in particular, its military assistance including military equipment in so far as this aid may be used in the violation of the Genocide Convention" and international law.

It also wants the court to order Germany to resume funding to UNRWA in Gaza.

But Germany's Von Uslar-Gleichen told the court that Germany remains the largest individual donor of humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

"Germany is doing its utmost to live up to its responsibility vis-a-vis both the Israeli and the Palestinian people," she said.

Her colleague, Tams, said Germany has resumed funding for UNRWA operations, a fact "ignored by Nicaragua." .

Germany faces Gaza genocide charge at top UN court

Israel not party to the proceedings

Germany's legal team argued that the ICJ could not consider Nicaragua's request for urgent measures, as it has not ruled that Israel is breaching the Genocide Convention.

"How can it be said that there was a failure to ensure respect of a third state, if the failure on the part of that third state to respect is not established in the first place?" another lawyer for Germany, Samuel Wordsworth asked. 

Additionally, he highlighted that Nicaragua did not bring its complaint against Israel.

"Nicaragua must establish that at least prima facie, the court is able to exercise jurisdiction, and it cannot do so, given the manifest absence of an indispensable third party, namely Israel," Wordsworth said. 

Another German lawyer said the case would not help end the conflict. 

"The situation in Gaza is unbearable; too many lives have been destroyed, too many life plans shattered; we all want this to end, but this type of strategic legislation between proxies won't bring us closer to this goal," Anne Peters said.

The court will likely take weeks to deliver its preliminary decision, and the bigger case could take years to finalize

Germany's commitment to support Israel

Germany has been one of Israel's staunchest allies in the wake of the Hamas attacks. 

"Our own history, our responsibility arising from the Holocaust, makes it a perpetual task for us to stand up for the security of the state of Israel," Chancellor Olaf Scholz said days after the attack.

But Berlin has gradually shifted its tone over the last six months, becoming increasingly critical of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and speaking out against a ground offensive in Rafah.

lo/ab (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)