Germany defends genocide case at UN High Court

  • By Mattia Bupalo & Matt Murphy
  • BBC News

image source, Good pictures

Germany has said Israel's defense is “at the center” of its foreign policy as it defends a genocide case against it at the UN's Supreme Court.

Nicaragua accused Israel of violating the UN Genocide Convention by sending military hardware and stopped funding a UN aid agency.

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

30% of Israel's military equipment will be purchased from Germany by 2023.

The total purchase was €300m ($326m; £257m).

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

Israel's offensive in Gaza has killed more than 33,000 people, the Hamas-run health ministry says, most of them civilians. Gaza is on the brink of famine, with Oxfam reporting that 300,000 people trapped in the north have lived on an average of 245 calories a day since January.

Nicaragua says Germany's arms sales to Israel totaled $326.5 million last year — a tenfold increase in 2022 — in complicity in Israel's alleged war crimes. The Central American country brought the case to The Hague to ask judges to take emergency measures to prevent Berlin from providing arms and other aid to Israel.

Germany's representative strongly rejected the allegations on Tuesday, arguing that Nicaragua's case – which was urgent and based on “very little evidence” – was aimed at Israel.

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

“Germany provided support to Israel, including the export of weapons and other military equipment, and the quality and purposes of these supplies have been completely distorted by Nicaragua.”

In his opening statement, he argued that Germany was doing its best to “live up to its responsibility” to the Palestinians and Israelis.

He added that Germany has an obligation to remind Israel of the provisions of international humanitarian law even if Israel exercises its “right to self-defense.”

On the issue of ending funding to the UN aid agency, he argued that Germany is among the biggest international donors to Gaza in 2024.

Another lawyer representing Germany, Christian Dams, said Germany had resumed funding of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees, which had been “ignored by Nicaragua”.

According to documents filed with the ICJ, Nicaragua wants the UN's top court to resume funding to the aid agency, one of the few international organizations still operating in Gaza.

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

Alain Pellet, a lawyer for Nicaragua, said it was “urgent that Germany continue to freeze sales.”

“Weapons that Germany has supplied to Israel and continue to supply can be used for genocide,” he told the judges.

Michael Becker, a law professor at Trinity College Dublin, told the BBC on Monday there was uncertainty about states' obligations to prevent genocide or ensure respect for humanitarian law. He said the case against Germany would help clarify the issue.

“Under international law, states can also be held responsible for aiding or abetting another state's violation of international law,” he observed.

“But international law on aid or assistance in the commission of an unlawful act is fraught with uncertainty. For example, it is unclear whether Nicaragua must prove that its aid to Israel risks contributing to a violation of international law. Germany intended that decision.

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

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