ICJ rejects emergency measures over German arms exports to Israel

The world court rules against issuing emergency order to stop German military exports in case brought by Nicaragua.

Tania von Uslar-Gleichen, Germany's legal adviser and director-general for legal affairs of the German foreign ministry and Christian J. Tams
Germany has denied accusations, with its lawyer arguing that Nicaragua’s case was based on flimsy evidence [Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters]

The International Court of Justice has ruled against issuing emergency measures over German arms sales to Israel as requested by Nicaragua, which had argued that there was a serious risk of genocide in Gaza amid Israel’s assault on the Palestinian territory.

Nicaragua also demanded that Germany resume funding to the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, after Israel alleged that some of its employees were involved in the October 7 attacks that triggered the continuing fighting.

The ICJ ruled against the request in a 15-1 vote. “The circumstances are not such as to require the exercise of its power under article 41 of the statute to indicate provisional measures,” presiding Judge Nawaf Salam said on Tuesday.

However, the judges did not grant the German request to throw out the case altogether. The court will still hear arguments from both sides on the merits of Nicaragua’s case, which will likely take months.

Salam said that the court “remains deeply concerned about the catastrophic living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in particular in view of the prolonged and widespread deprivation of food and other basic necessities to which they have been subjected.”

He added that the court “considers it particularly important to remind all states of their international obligations relating to the transfer of arms to parties to an armed conflict, in order to avoid the risk that such arms might be used” to violate international law.

In a two-day hearing in April, Nicaragua brought its case against Germany for allegedly facilitating genocide by being one of Israel’s biggest military suppliers.

Germany has denied the accusations, with its lawyer arguing that Nicaragua’s case was rushed, based on flimsy evidence and should be thrown out for lack of jurisdiction.

The German Foreign Office wrote on X after the ruling that it welcomed the ICJ decision. “Germany is not a party to the conflict in the Middle East. On the contrary: we are working day and night for a two-state solution,” the ministry said. “We are the largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. We are working to ensure that aid reaches the people in Gaza.”

“However, we also see that the terror of Oct. 7 has set off this new spiral of suffering, against which Israel must defend itself,” it added. “Over 100 hostages are still in the hands of Hamas, which is abusing the people of Gaza as shields.”

Germany argued at hearings in the case that it has barely exported any weapons to Israel since the offensive on Gaza started.

The court noted that Germany had granted only four export licences to Israel for weapons of war since the start of the war, two for training ammunition and one for test purposes, as well as one consignment of “3,000 portable anti-tank weapons”.

Berlin has been a staunch supporter of Israel for decades but gradually shifted its tone as civilian casualties in Gaza soared, becoming increasingly critical of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and speaking out against a potential ground offensive on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza.

Moataz El Fegiery, head of the human rights program at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, said the ICJ decision did not constitute a victory for Germany.

“The court reminded Germany that it is obliged under international law not to provide weapons that could be used in human rights violations,” El Fegiery told Al Jazeera.

It also specified that conditions at the present moment did not warrant for provisional measures, implying that circumstances may change and that such a decision could be reached in the future, the expert said.

El Fegiery said that Nicaragua’s case was part of a “global mobilisation” for Gaza that was likely going to trigger lawsuits challenging arms sales in domestic courts.

In January, the World Court in The Hague had ruled as part of a separate case brought by South Africa that there was “a real and imminent risk that irreparable prejudice” will be caused to the rights of Palestinians in Gaza under the genocide convention.

Israel, which isn’t a party to the case between Nicaragua and Germany, strongly denies that its assault on Gaza amounts to acts of genocide, and insists that it’s acting in self-defence.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies