UN Court Ruling Assures Impunity for Nazi War Crimes

In a decision that has been little noted by the American news media – and misreported by those news outlets that reported it at all -- the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled last Friday that Germany enjoys immunity from liability for crimes committed by German forces on foreign soil during WWII. (The full text of the ICJ decision is available here.)

The ruling stems from several recent cases in which Italian courts ruled that Germany must pay indemnities to Italian victims of Nazi war crimes or surviving family members. The ICJ found that Italy had “violated its obligation to respect” Germany’s “state immunity.”

The most sensational of the Italian cases involves the Civitella Massacre, so-named for the village in Tuscany that was at the center of a series of indiscriminate “reprisal actions” undertaken by German forces on June 29, 1944. The “reprisals” were carried out by units of the German Wehrmacht’s “Hermann Göring” Division after Italian partisans shot and killed two German soldiers and mortally wounded a third days earlier. Over 200 civilians were killed in the massacres, including women and children. Many of the victims were killed at the Santa Maria church in Civitella, where they had gathered to celebrate mass. Most of the parishioners are reported to have been shot in the back of the head. Germany does not contest the facts of the case.

An AP report on the ICJ ruling, however, fails even to mention the massacres. Instead, it gives the impression that the ruling merely concerns the case of Luigi Ferrini, an Italian civilian deported to Germany to work as a slave laborer. (An abridged and even less informative version of the AP dispatch also appeared as a “news brief” in the New York Times.)

In a bizarre touch, the AP report goes on to note that “although Italy was a German ally during the War, many Italians were deported by Nazi forces, interned in camps and used as slave laborers.” It fails to mention that Italy in fact changed sides during the war, suing for peace with the Allies in September 1943 and then itself declaring war on Nazi Germany. Like thousands of other Italian civilians, Luigi Ferrini was deported to Germany after September 1943. It was likewise between September 1943 and the end of the war that German forces committed numerous massacres on Italian soil.