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The Maastricht Diplomat

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[REUTERS] ICJ judges grant a small victory to Italy, deciding against setting a new legal precedent

As Reuter’s journalists cracked open the heavy doors to the Hague courtroom, advocates and judges leisurely ambled around the room, boasting in an air of satisfaction and tranquillity. “We’re done,” the chairs informed with a smile. Fortunately, the Court was still willing to share their thoughts. 

From a juridical standpoint, Judge Mattiello explained how the outcome of the case relied on three main questions. The first related to the jurisdictional immunity of Germany, which was granted. 

The second, on the other hand, is where expectations were subverted: Italy (specifically its court system) was awarded jurisdiction over the heavily contested Villa Vigoni. 

“We were trying to convey the emotional side [of the case],” an Italian advocate confessed. 

This statement was made in light of the consideration that Italian representatives were “doomed” from the start (a term employed by the interviewers themselves that was confirmed by the advocate) due to a significant lack of legal basis for their claims. 

The Italian’s side's reliance on the emotional importance of the case managed to effectively remedy the legal gaps in their arguments and convince the judges in ruling in favor of the Republic for this second point. 

“When we started, most of the judges were in favour of Germany,” Mattiello stated, “[but] we felt that giving Italy this victory [...] would be a show that we do believe that Italy's claims are based on moral grounds which are correct”. It was clear the judges wanted to leave a mark with their judgement from a human rights standpoint with this acknowledgment. 

On the other hand, the judges decided not to rule in favour of Italy’s claim of jus cogens (peremptory norms of international law, such as human rights) being a potential exception to jurisdictional immunity. In the past days, the judges had reported to outlets that they were deciding if setting this new legal precedent in international law. Ultimately, they decided in favour of preserving the current state of legal certainty. 

Finally, the Court decided again in favor of Germany for the third question, denying the legal effects of the Greek cases in Italian courts, the last highly contested issue in the case. This was also a matter of being coherent with the other holdings on the questions.

Overall, although Germany claims victory in the case, Italian advocates maintained wide smiles all throughout. “This is a small victory for us,” an Italian advocate claimed. “It was very difficult on our side [...] which is why we’re very satisfied”. 

The last point raised in the questioning, as the interviewees made their way back to the celebrations, was on behalf of Germany, who wanted to make sure the public was informed of the implications in today’s final ruling. More specifically, the German lawyer remarked on a broad interpretation of “commercial purposes” in the context of Art 19(c) in the UN Convention on State Immunity. 

This provision is meant to set exceptions to the general rule that measures of constraint (such as arrest or execution) cannot be taken on a state’s property, in connection to proceedings, by another state. The exception important to this case was set out in subsection (c), namely where the property is used for commercial purposes. 

“That [interpretation] could have an effect on other areas of international law, such as [cases] with embassies,” he warned. 

The outcome left all parties satisfied, even considering the initial appearance that Germany would have taken home every single point of contention. All that’s left to be seen is how the Court applies this landmark judgment in the future, and whether Italy will respect Germany’s newly established state immunity. 

EuroMUN Committee: International Court of Justice (ICJ)


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