Germany defends genocide case before the highest UN court

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  • By Mattea Bubalo and Matt Murphy
  • bbc news

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Germany has said Israel’s security is the “core” of its foreign policy, as it defends a genocide case brought against it before the UN’s highest court.

Nicaragua had accused him of violating the U.N. convention on genocide by sending military equipment to Israel and stopping funding the U.N. aid agency.

Berlin rejected the claims before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on Tuesday.

In 2023, around 30% of Israel’s military equipment purchases came from Germany.

The purchases amounted to €300 million ($326 million; £257 million).

Israel rejects accusations that it is engaging in genocidal acts in its campaign in Gaza and has insisted that it has the right to defend itself.

More than 33,000 people have been killed in Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the Hamas-run Health Ministry says, most of them civilians. Gaza is on the brink of famine, and Oxfam reports that 300,000 people trapped in the north have lived since January on an average of 245 calories a day.

Nicaragua says Germany’s arms sales to Israel, which amounted to $326.5 million last year – a tenfold increase from 2022 – make it complicit in Israel’s alleged war crimes. The Central American country had taken the case to The Hague to ask judges to issue emergency measures to prevent Berlin from providing weapons and other assistance to Israel.

Firmly rejecting the accusations, Germany’s representative argued Tuesday that the Nicaragua case – which she said was rushed and based on the “flimsest of evidence” – was directed more towards Israel.

“Nicaragua insists [on] initiate proceedings against Germany before this court, [and] has adopted a unilateral view of the conflict. In this situation, neither the facts nor the law are adequately appreciated,” lawyer Tania von Uslar-Gleichen said on Tuesday.

“Our history is the reason why Israel’s security has been at the center of Germany’s foreign policy,” he told the court.

“When Germany has provided support to Israel, including in the form of exports of weapons and other military equipment, Nicaragua has greatly distorted the quality and purposes of these supplies.”

In his opening speech, he argued that Germany was doing “everything possible to fulfill its responsibility” towards both the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Germany has a duty to remind Israel of the rules of international humanitarian law, even as it exercises its “right to self-defense,” he added.

On the issue of stopping funding the UN aid agency, he argued that Germany was among the largest international donors to Gaza in 2024.

Another lawyer representing Germany, Christian Tams, stated that Germany had resumed funding operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), a fact “ignored by Nicaragua.”

According to documents filed with the ICJ, Nicaragua wanted the U.N. top court to resume funding for the aid agency, one of the few international organizations still operating in Gaza.

On Monday, the opening day of the trial, Nicaragua’s lawyers had said Berlin was “pathetic” for supplying weapons to Israel while also providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

Alain Pellet, a lawyer for Nicaragua, said it was “urgent for Germany to suspend continued sales.”

“Germany was and is fully aware of the risk that the weapons it has provided and continues to provide to Israel” could be used to commit genocide, he told the judges.

The Nicaragua case has raised broader questions about the responsibility of countries that supply weapons to Israel since the Gaza conflict began.

Michael Becker, a law professor at Trinity College Dublin, told the BBC on Monday that there was uncertainty about states’ obligations to prevent genocide or ensure respect for humanitarian law. The case against Germany, he claimed, could help clarify the issue.

“Under international law, States may also be held responsible for aiding or assisting in violations of international law by another State,” he observed.

“But international law on aid or assistance in the commission of a wrongful act is fraught with uncertainty. For example, it may not be clear whether Nicaragua needs to prove that Germany knew that its assistance to Israel risked contributing to violations of international law. , but that Germany intended that result.

Critics of the Nicaragua case have highlighted the country’s checkered human rights record. President Daniel Ortega’s government has imprisoned opponents and banned protests. In March, the UK mission to the UN accused the government of a “relentless” crackdown on human rights.

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