World Court rejects ban on German weapons exports to Israel

The International Court of Justice delievers a preliminary ruling in the case of Nicaragua vs. Germany, 30 April.


The International Court of Justice has declined to issue emergency measures barring German arms exports to Israel but has not dismissed a complaint brought by Nicaragua.

The ruling comes after Nicaragua initiated proceedings against Germany for its “participation in the ongoing plausible genocide” in Gaza, as the Central American country stated in the conclusion of its oral observations a few weeks ago.

Nicaragua had asked the court to order that Germany immediately suspend aid to Israel; ensure that its military supplies already delivered are not used by Israel to commit violations of the Genocide Convention; and resume its funding to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.

The court judges determined that Nicaragua had not sufficiently shown that the circumstances required the requested provisional measures ahead of a final ruling on the complaint.

The court pointed to Germany’s nominally robust legal framework for the manufacture, sale and export of arms and military equipment.

It noted, too, that there had been a significant decrease in weapons licenses for Israel between November and March. Germany was the second largest external weapons supplier to Israel over the past decade.

With regards to UNRWA, the court observed that contributions to the agency are voluntary and that no new payment was due from Germany in the weeks after it announced it had frozen funding following Israeli allegations that UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October attack led by Hamas.

Germany indicated last week that it would resume its financial support for UNRWA. The European state is the second largest contributor to the agency after the US, which has introduced a law suspending funding through March 2025.

The International Court of Justice judges declined Germany’s request to dismiss the case, rejecting Germany’s claim that there is “a manifest lack of jurisdiction.”

“Deeply concerned”

In their ruling, the judges said “the court remains deeply concerned about the catastrophic living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip,” particularly the “prolonged and widespread deprivation of food and other basic necessities.”

The judges also affirmed that state parties to the Geneva Conventions “are under an obligation ‘to respect and to ensure respect’ ” for the law and that states must “employ all means reasonably available to them to prevent genocide so far as possible.”

The court reminded states of their obligations in relation to the transfer of arms where there is a risk that weapons might be used to violate international law.

“All these obligations are incumbent upon Germany as a state party … in its supply of arms to Israel,” the judges stated.

Composed of 15 judges, the court is the United Nations’ main judicial body and settles disputes between states and gives advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it from within the UN system.

Also known as the World Court, the International Court of Justice is currently considering a complaint over violations of the Genocide Convention brought by South Africa against Israel.

Israel ignores ICJ orders

In the South Africa case, the court has issued two sets of provisional measures ordering Israel to halt genocidal acts, but they have gone ignored.

In its most recent set of provisional measures, the court ordered Israel to take “necessary and effective measures to ensure, without delay, in full cooperation with the United Nations, the unhindered provision at scale … of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

The judges also ordered Israel to ensure that “its military does not commit acts which constitute a violation of any of the rights of the Palestinians in Gaza … including by preventing, through any action, the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance.”

The International Court of Justice is a separate tribunal from the International Criminal Court, which is also based in The Hague. The latter court investigates and brings charges against individuals, rather than states.

The International Criminal Court has an open Palestine investigation and the Israeli government has spread rumors in the media suggesting that arrest warrants against senior officials are imminent.


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Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.