Why is Nicaragua taking Germany to court for ‘facilitating genocide in Gaza’?

Nicaragua has brought an international legal case against Germany accusing the country of “facilitating the commission of genocide” against Palestinians in Gaza via its arms exports to Israel.

According to the case, which has been filed at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Germany has violated its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention and other norms of general international law by participating in “the ongoing plausible genocide and serious breaches of international humanitarian law and other peremptory norms of general international law occurring in the Gaza Strip”.

Presenting the case to the ICJ, Nicaragua argued that Germany has violated its obligations to ensure that it has taken steps to avoid assisting Israel as the perpetrator of genocide.

Last year, Germany’s arms sales to Israel totalled €326.5 million, according to data from the Economy Ministry.

The country is also one of 15 nations that suspended funding for UNRWA , the main UN agency offering humanitarian assistance in Gaza, following allegations that individuals among its staff were involved in the October 7 massacre orchestrated by Hamas in southern Israel.

Nicaragua’s case demands judges impose emergency measures that would stop Berlin from providing Israel, its political ally, with weapons and other assistance.

The case for the defence

Germany has rejected Nicaragua’s allegations, calling the case “biased”.

In its legal argument presented to the court on Tuesday, Germany said it is standing by Israel’s right to existence according to lessons it has learnt from its own past. 

The German team also maintain that Nicaragua has overestimated the amount of arms and military equipment it has provided to Israel. Lawyer Tania von Uslar-Gleichen said that Berlin has reduced the number of licences granted for arms exports to Israel, with only four licences of war weapons issued since October 7. 

The German case also questions the use of the term “genocide”, saying it has not yet been legally established that Israel is committing genocide.

Some critics of the case have drawn attention to Nicaragua’s own chequered human rights record, saying it is relevant to its decision to launching the case against Berlin.

Michaela Lissowsky, Head of the Human Rights Hub at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, aligned with Germany’s Free Democratic Party, called the move “a cheap diversionary tactic”, pointing out that Nicaragua’s judiciary is under the control of the country’s president and vice president.

According to Lissowsky, Germany has been selected as the target of the case because Nicaragua is closely allied with Russia.

“Germany is not only supporting Ukraine in its defence against the Russian war of aggression, but is also defending itself against Russian disinformation and political influence,” she said.

Sends a clear message

Nicaragua nonetheless has drawn support for its case across the political spectrum, including within Germany.

As first reported by Al Jazeera, a group of 600 civil servants in Germany have written to senior ministers calling for Germany to stop supplying Israel with arms deliveries, in line with the demands laid out in the case.

Although a ruling on the case is likely to take some time, the case’s content and Nicaragua’s decision to bring it could have a wide-ranging impact on other countries supplying Israel weapons that are also signatories to international humanitarian conventions.

As Jonathan Purcell, Senior Public Affairs Officer at the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians, told Euronews, the case’s most valuable contribution may well be the precedent it sets for state accountability.

“In the same way that the South Africa ICJ case sent a signal that Israel’s genocide in Gaza could be scrutinised, this new Nicaragua case sends a clear signal that other countries’ complicity in genocide can be scrutinised too,” he said.

Israel’s Western allies are facing growing pressure over their support for the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, where more than 33,175 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the conflict. 

Last week, 600 lawyers, academics and retired judges in the UK signed a letter warning that the British government could be breaching international law by continuing to send Israel military aid. The government has so far refused to publish legal advice it sought on the legality of the conflict.

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