Middle East

UN’s top court rejects call for Germany to immediately halt arms exports to Israel

By Ivana Kottasová, CNN

CNN  — 

The United Nations’ top court struck down a demand by Nicaragua that Germany immediately halt its arms exports to Israel on Tuesday, saying it cannot issue emergency measures against Berlin under the current circumstances.

“The court, by 15 votes to 1, finds that the circumstances as they present themselves to the court are not such as to require the exercise of its power under article 41 of the statute to indicate provisional measures,” Judge Nawaf Salam, president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), said at The Hague in the Netherlands on Tuesday.

However, the court also rejected Germany’s demand to strike the lawsuit from its list, meaning the case will now move on, a legal process that could take years. The ruling on Tuesday only concerned whether or not Berlin should be ordered to immediately stop selling arms to Israel.

The only judge who voted against Germany was Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh, the ad hoc judge chosen by Nicaragua. Countries that do not have a judge of their nationality sitting on the ICJ can chose to appoint an ad hoc judge to join the court for cases that concern them, which is what Nicaragua did with the Jordanian judge.

Reading the ruling, Salam said the court was “concerned about the catastrophic living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including prolonged deprivation of food and basic necessities.”

The case against Germany was brought by Nicaragua. A long-time supporter of the Palestinian cause, the Central American country accused Germany of violating its obligations as a signatory of the Genocide Convention through its political, financial and military support for Israel, and by suspending funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Germany suspended the funding in January amid allegations that 12 of the UN agency’s employees were involved in the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. It has since reinstated it.

Germany’s lawyer Tania von Uslar-Gleichen welcomed the court’s decision and described “Nicaragua’s allegation as absolutely false.” Germany “will continue to refute them in total,” she said.

Its foreign ministry said in a statement posted on X shortly after the announcement that “Germany is not a party in the conflict in the Middle East” and added: “to the contrary, Germany is working day and night for a two-state solution.”

Tania von Uslar-Gleichen (second from left), Germany's legal adviser, and Christian J. Tams (center), a member of the German delegation, attend the ICJ on Tuesday.

Clash of long-time supporters

The case pits one of the staunchest supporters of Israel against a longstanding supporter of the Palestinians.

Nicaragua’s affinity to the Palestinian cause dates to the 1970s, when Israel was a key weapons supplier to the United States-backed Nicaraguan regime led by the Somoza family, and supported it in suppressing the Sandinista revolution.

In turn, the Sandinistas, led among others by Nicaragua’s current President Daniel Ortega, forged a close relationship with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which supplied them with weapons and training.

Nicaraguan Ambassador to the Netherlands Carlos Jose Arguello Gomez told the court that his government had launched the case against Germany “on behalf of the Palestinian people” who are “being subjected to one of the most destructive military actions in modern history.”

Lawyers representing Nicaragua explained the lawsuit did not accuse Germany of committing genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza, but of “failing in its obligation to prevent and suppress the crime of genocide.”

Germany, meanwhile, is Israel’s second largest supplier of weapons after the US. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Berlin was responsible for some 30% of Israel’s arms imports in 2023.

German politicians have repeatedly stated that Israel’s security is Germany’s “raison d’etre,” because of its Nazi past.

Since October 7, when Hamas-led militants attacked Israel, killed around 1,200 people and took another 250 hostages, Germany has initiated a major clampdown on the militant group on its soil, but has also put significant curbs on pro-Palestinian voices and those critical of Israel.

In Berlin, pro-Palestinian marches have been limited and schools have been granted the power to place bans on Palestinian flags and keffiyeh scarves.

Across the country, using the pro-Palestinian slogan “From the river to the sea” is now a criminal offense. The chant, used frequently at demonstrations, demands equal rights and the independence of Palestinians, although in some cases it is intended to call for the abolishment of Israel.

Some politicians have called for acknowledgement of Israel’s right to exist to be a prerequisite for German citizenship. The country has the largest Palestinian diaspora in Europe, estimated at 300,000.

Von Uslar-Gleichen referred to the Nazi Holocaust against Jews during World War II when presenting Germany’s arguments at the ICJ, explaining that “our history is the reason why Israel’s security has been at the core of German foreign policy.”

While the court ruled in Berlin’s favor on Tuesday, there are an increasing number of voices in Germany calling on Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza.

Earlier this month, Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock urged Israel to “put in place a massive increase in aid supplies” while also calling on Hamas to release hostages it is still holding in Gaza.

Israel was not a party to the case, but the ruling on Tuesday comes as the ICJ is hearing a separate case brought against Israel by South Africa. In January, the court issued an interim ruling ordering Israel to prevent genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, but stopped short of calling for Israel to suspend its military campaign, as South Africa had requested. The ICJ is still considering whether Israel is guilty of violating the Genocide Convention.

According to a statement published by the Ministry of Health in Gaza on Sunday, more than 34,450 people have been killed in the strip since Israel launched its war following Hamas’ October 7 terror attacks.

This story has been updated.

CNN’s Abel Alvarado, Tamar Michaelis, Sophie Tanno, Nadine Schmidt and Inke Kappeler contributed reporting.

Related Articles

Back to top button