ICJ set to begin hearings on Nicaragua’s claim Germany aiding Israel’s ‘genocide’

World Court to hold preliminary hearing Monday, with Nicaragua seeking to halt Berlin’s military aid to Israel; Germany rejects accusations it is in breach of Genocide Convention

A pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrator holds a sign outside the International Court of Justice, rear, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (AP Photo/ Peter Dejong)
A pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrator holds a sign outside the International Court of Justice, rear, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (AP Photo/ Peter Dejong)

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands — Preliminary hearings are set to open Monday at the United Nations’ top court in a case that seeks an end to German military and other aid to Israel, based on claims that Berlin is “facilitating” acts of genocide and breaches of international law in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Israel strongly denies its military campaign amounts to breaches of the Genocide Convention.

While the case brought by Nicaragua centers on Germany, it indirectly takes aim at Israel’s military campaign in Gaza following the deadly October 7 onslaught, when Hamas-led terrorists stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253 hostages.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 33,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

“We are calm and we will set out our legal position in court,” German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sebastian Fischer said ahead of the hearings.

“We reject Nicaragua’s accusations,” Fischer told reporters in Berlin on Friday. “Germany has breached neither the genocide convention nor international humanitarian law, and we will set this out in detail before the International Court of Justice.”

File: The International Court of Justice holds public hearings on the request for an advisory opinion on the Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, from February 19 to February 26 at the Peace Palace in The Hague in the Netherlands. (International Court of Justice)

Nicaragua has asked the court to hand down preliminary orders known as provisional measures, including that Germany “immediately suspend its aid to Israel, in particular, its military assistance including military equipment in so far as this aid may be used in the violation of the Genocide Convention” and international law.

The court will likely take weeks to deliver its preliminary decision and Nicaragua’s case will likely drag on for years.

Monday’s hearing at the world court comes at a time of growing calls for allies to stop supplying arms to Israel as its six-month campaign continues to lay waste to Gaza.

The offensive has displaced the vast majority of Gaza’s population. Food is scarce, the UN says famine is approaching and few Palestinians have been able to leave the besieged territory.

“The case next week in The Hague will likely further galvanize opposition to any support for Israel,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of law and international peace studies at the University of Notre Dame.

On Friday, the UN’s top human rights body called on countries to stop selling or shipping weapons to Israel. The United States and Germany opposed the resolution.

Also, hundreds of British jurists, including three retired Supreme Court judges, have called on their government to suspend arms sales to Israel after three UK citizens were among seven aid workers from the charity World Central Kitchen killed in Israeli strikes. Israel said the attack on the aid workers was a mistake caused by “misidentification.”

Germany has for decades been a staunch supporter of Israel. Days after the October 7 massacre by Hamas, Chancellor Olaf Scholz explained why: “Our own history, our responsibility arising from the Holocaust, makes it a perpetual task for us to stand up for the security of the State of Israel,” he told lawmakers.

File: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before a press conference in Jerusalem, March 17, 2024. (GPO)

Berlin, however, has gradually shifted its tone as civilian casualties in Gaza have soared, becoming increasingly critical of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and speaking out against a ground offensive in Rafah.

Nicaragua’s government, which has historical links with Palestinian organizations dating back to their support for the 1979 Sandinista revolution, was itself accused earlier this year by UN-backed human rights experts of systematic human rights abuses “tantamount to crimes against humanity.” The government of President Daniel Ortega fiercely rejected the allegations.

In January, the ICJ imposed provisional measures ordering Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and acts of genocide in Gaza. The orders came in a case filed by South Africa accusing Israel of breaching the Genocide Convention. The court has not ruled on the merit of the claims, and declined to order Israel to halt its military operations.

The court last week ordered Israel to take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, including opening more land crossings to allow food, water, fuel and other supplies into the war-ravaged enclave.

On Friday, Israel said it was taking steps to increase the flow of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, including reopening a key border crossing into northern Gaza.

File: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega (L) meets with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Olof Palme Convention Centre in Managua, on June 14, 2023. (Cesar PEREZ/Nicaraguan Presidency/AFP)

Nicaragua argues that by giving Israel political, financial, and military support and by defunding the United Nations aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, “Germany is facilitating the commission of genocide and, in any case, has failed in its obligation to do everything possible to prevent the commission of genocide.”

Accusations from Israel that 12 UNRWA staff members took part in Hamas’s October 7 massacres prompted several countries, including Germany, Britain, Japan, and the United States, to suspend their funding.

Israel has dismissed South Africa’s case as a “grossly distorted story,” saying it has the right to defend itself and denying any acts of genocide. Israeli legal adviser Tal Becker told judges at the court in January that the country is fighting a “war it did not start and did not want.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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