UN court to rule in Italy-Germany Nazi claims row

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The UN's highest court will rule Friday on a German request to order Italy to stop its courts from admitting compensation claims for Nazi war crimes.

International Criminal Court judge president Hisashi Owada will read the decision at 0900 GMT at the court's headquarters in The Hague, the ICJ said in a statement.

The two European Union members have been waging a legal battle since December 2008, when Germany filed an application before the court.

Berlin said that by permitting claims for abuses that occurred between September 1943 and May 1945, Italy "failed to respect the jurisdictional immunity" that modern-day Germany enjoys under international law.

The cases relate to compensation claims for deportations of Italians and other acts by Third Reich troops during World War II after Germany's former Axis partner switched sides and joined the Allies in September 1943.

Last year, Germany's lawyers told a 16-judge bench the "consequences would be severe" should Italian courts be allowed to continue hearing these war crimes claims.

Germany said it could put "all interstate peace settlements in jeopardy by allowing domestic courts to re-examine and reopen them", allowing plaintiffs to "shop around for the most favourable courts."

Italy on the other hand, said the cases were admissible as abuses committed by German troops amounted to "international crimes" which have precedence over state immunity.

This included the case of Luigi Ferrini, who was deported as a forced labourer to Germany in August 1944.

Ferrini claimed compensation from Germany in 1998, and a 2004 Italian Supreme Court decision in his favour started an avalanche of claims by relatives and widows of victims of Nazi war crimes.

There were now 80 cases pending with 500 plaintiffs, German lawyers told the court when the two countries argued their cases before ICJ judges in September.

Also before the ICJ as a non-party state is Greece, because of victims of a 1944 German massacre at Distomo, in which 218 people were killed.

Relatives of the victims of the Greek massacre refiled a case before Italian courts.

In 1997, a Greek court had ordered Germany to pay 28.6 million euros to the Distomo plaintiffs, but opposition from Berlin and the reluctance of Greek justice ministers meant the ruling was never enforced.

An Italian court, however, upheld the original ruling.

Established in 1945, the ICJ is the UN's highest judicial organ and settles disputes between states.

© 2012 AFP

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