Germany enjoys legal immunity from being sued in foreign courts by Greek victims of Second World War atrocities, the United Nations highest court ruled on Friday in the Hague.
The International Court of Justice said in a ruling that the Italian courts had violated Germany’s sovereignty by judging that the relatives of Greek victims of a German war atrocity could seize a German-owned property in Italy.
On 10 June 1944, German SS troops massacred 218 innocent civilians in the village of Distomo and set almost all the houses on fire, in one of the most horrifying atrocities in occupied Greece.
In 2008, an Italian court an Italian court gave victims’ families the green light to seize Villa Vigoni, a German-Italian cultural centre on Lake Como owned by the German state, by way of compensation.
The world court, which heard the case in September 2011, says that the Italian case violated Germany’s longstanding immunity from being sued in national courts.
However, the court emphasised that it was not ruling on the legality of Greek court decisions allowing for seizures of German property in Greece by victims.
In 2000, the Greek Supreme Court awarded survivors and relatives of the victims damages of 9.5bn drachmas and allowed the confiscation of German state property in Greece if Berlin refused to pay up.
But two years later, the Supreme Special Court, accepted Berlin’s argument that the German state had judicial immunity, or that it cannot be tried abroad for acts committed as a sovereign state.
15 years’ of hearings: Distomo timeline
A lower court in Livadia, Viotia, orders Germany to pay compensation of 7.6bn drachmas (or 22.3m euros) to 257 relatives of Distomo victims
Greek Supreme Court (plenary session) upholds decision of the Livadia court, after German petitions that it be annulled
Lawyer Yiannis Stamoulis, acting on behalf of victims’ relatives, proceeds with seizure of prime German state properties, including Goethe Institute in Kolonaki and German Archaeological Institute in central Athens, to satisfy monetary claim against Germany. Germany immediately appeals to Athens lower court, which rules that seizure is legal. Germany appeals in appellate court, which rules in Germany’s favour. Stramoulis appeals to Supreme Court, which rules that ministerial approval is necessary
Section of Supreme Court, reviewing a petition regarding a victim in another village, refers question of whether German can claim extraterritoriality to Supreme Special Court.
Supreme Special Court accepts German claim of extraterritoriality, but the decision affects only other Greek compensation claims as Distomo case had already been judged finally in Supreme Court
Greek justice minister refuses permission to carry out seizure of a German property in Thessaloniki
Lawyer Joachim Lau files for execution of victims’ families legal expenses, and for execution of the 22.3m euro compensation from Germany in separate petition in appellate court in Florence, Italy
Florence appellate court rules in families’ favour on legal expenses. Germany immediately appeals to Italian Supreme Court, which upholds Florence ruling
Italian Supreme Court rejects Germany’s appeal regarding legal expenses
Italian Appellate Court says that full compensation amount awarded by Livadia court can be executed in Italy (concession of exequatur)
Germany petitions International Court of Justice (ICJ), in The Hague, to judge whether Germany enjoys sovereign immunity for acts committed abroad by Nazi troops
12 January 2011
Italian Supreme court hears arguments on German appeal. The same day PM Papandreou says Greece will seek to be a party in ICJ case
ICJ hearings into the case
3 February 2012
ICJ delivers its verdict
Caption: Skulls and bones in an ossuary in the village of Distomo serve as a haunting reminder of the massacre of 218 civilians who were slaughtered by the Nazis, on 10 June 1944 (Reuters)