Germany, Italy at UN court over Nazi claims

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Germany on Monday asked the UN's highest court to order Italy to stop civil courts from accepting claims for compensation for Nazi war crimes.

"We are here to obtain a ruling of this court on legal issues of great significance not only for the immediate parties... but for the international legal order as a whole and for its future development," said Susanne Wasum-Rainer, Germany's representative before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Germany lodged its application before the court in December 2008, saying that by permitting claims for abuses which happened between September 1943 and May 1945, Italy "failed to respect the jurisdictional immunity" that modern-day Germany enjoys under international law.

She said that both Italian and German governments were keen for a decision from the court "to clarify this complex issue."

The German petition wants the 16-judge bench based in the Hague-based to order Italy to take steps to ensure decisions by Italian courts "infringing on German sovereign immunity" cannot be enforced.

Italian courts in turn have argued that the cases were admissable because abuses committed by German troops amounted to "international crimes" which took precedence over state immunity.

Third Reich troops committed war crimes in Italy after Rome switched sides to the Allies in September 1943. One case concerned Luigi Ferrini, who was deported to Germany as a forced labourer in August 1944, court documents said.

Ferrini claimed compensation from Germany in 1998 and since an Italian Supreme Court decision in 2004 in his favour, numerous other claims by relatives and widows of victims of Nazi war crimes have been brought before Italian courts.

"There are currently about 80 cases pending with 500 plaintiffs," said Wasum-Rainer, the German foreign office's director-general for legal affairs and legal advisor.

Also before court is Greece, because relatives of victims of a 1944 German massacre of Greeks at Distomo, in Greece, which claimed 218 lives, turned to the Italian courts after their case stalled in Athens.

"We are here because we want to find our right to justice. We hope for a positive outcome for Italy. Germany must respect the decisions taken in Italian courts," Vassilis Karkoulias of the Hellenic Association for victims during the Time of German Occupation told AFP.

Greece however is taking part as a non-party state in the hearings which last till Friday when judges will retire to make decision.

Established in 1945, the ICJ is the UN's highest judicial organ and settles disputes between states. It is the only one of the six main UN bodies not located in New York.

© 2011 AFP

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