Court blocks cross-border Holocuast lawsuits

By Toby Axelrod, February 9, 2012

A ruling last week by the International Court of Justice in The Hague that victims of the Nazis will not have the right to sue Germany in foreign courts has dashed hopes for speedier justice for Holocaust survivors.

The judgment overturned a 2004 decision by the Italian Supreme Court, which ruled that Germany should pay reparations to an Italian former slave labourer, Luigi Ferrini.

The Hague ruling preserves the legal status quo, allowing nationals to sue their governments but not other states, except in an international tribunal.

But the decision does mean states can continue to drag their feet over reparations for war crimes, said Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the Berlin-based International Auschwitz Committee.

Mr Heubner said: "For the states and their interests it is a good decision, but it is bad for the people and human rights. If it takes future victims as long to get compensation as it did for those who were in German concentration camps, it is not a just system."

He added that Germany has taken too long to process reparations claims because the threat of individual lawsuits has been absent.

The decision has no effect on international reparations agreements and does not stop survivors from pursuing justice in an international court. Germany signed a treaty with Italy in 1961, setting aside 40 million deutschmarks for reparations to individuals.

But would justice move more swiftly if one removed sovereign immunity and allowed individuals to sue foreign states?

"I think a total disorder would follow," said Jose Brunner, a specialist on Second World War compensation at Tel Aviv University. There is already a problem with states claiming "criminal jurisdiction over persons whose alleged crimes were committed outside their boundaries. The sensible thing is to improve and expand possibilities for individuals to sue in international courts and tribunals."

Last updated: 12:47pm, February 9 2012