Israel-Hamas war: World court opens hearings in case brought by Nicaragua against Germany

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Nicaragua called on the United Nations’ top court on Monday to halt German military aid to Israel, arguing that Berlin’s support enables acts of genocide and breaches of international humanitarian law in Gaza.

The case at the International Court of Justice is against Germany, which is the second-largest supplier of arms to Israel after the U.S., but it also indirectly takes aim at Israel’s 6-month-old military campaign, which has left tens of thousands of Palestinians dead and devastated Gaza.

Nicaragua’s allegations represent the latest legal attempt by a country with historic ties to the Palestinian people to stop Israel’s offensive, after South Africa accused Israel of genocide at the court late last year. They also come amid growing calls for Israel’s allies to stop supplying the country with weapons — and as some supporters, including Germany, have grown more critical of the war.

Nicaragua’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, Carlos José Argüello Gómez, told the 16-judge panel that “Germany is failing to honor its own obligation to prevent genocide or to ensure respect of international humanitarian law.”

Germany will present its arguments Tuesday. The head of its legal team, Tania von Uslar-Gleichen, called Nicaragua’s case “grossly biased” and denied that Berlin is breaching international law.

Israel strongly denies that its assault amounts to genocidal acts, saying it is acting in self defense after Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people. Israeli legal adviser Tal Becker told judges at the court earlier this year in the case brought by South Africa that Israel is fighting a “war it did not start and did not want.”

Since then, more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. Its toll doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, but it has said women and children make up the majority of the dead.

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

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, German is second only to the U.S. in supplying arms to Israel — but it would be harder, if not impossible, for the U.S. to be brought before the court because Washington does not recognize the ICJ’s power to compel countries to appear before it. The U.S. also has not signed a protocol to the Genocide Convention that allows countries to bring disputes to the court.

Nicaragua, nevertheless, sought to include U.S. arms supplies in its case, saying that Berlin and Washington collaborate on some military programs. Argüello Gómez urged the court to include U.S. supplies in its preliminary orders, known as provisional measures.

Nicaragua has asked the court to order Germany to “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.

It also wants the court to order Germany to resume funding to the United Nations aid agency in Gaza in addition to the aid Berlin is already providing.

“It is indeed a pathetic excuse to the Palestinian children, women and men in Gaza to provide humanitarian aid, including through airdrops, on the one hand, and to furnish the weapons and military equipment that are used to kill and annihilate them” and humanitarian workers, Nicaragua lawyer Daniel Müller told judges.

Dozens of flag-waving pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated outside the court.

Sliman Abu Amara, a Dutch citizen of Palestinian descent, said he was grateful to Nicaragua for taking Germany to court, noting “the irony is that Germany is actually behind the whole international convention on preventing the genocide.”

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

Meanwhile, hundreds of British jurists, including three retired Supreme Court judges, have called on their government to suspend arms sales to Israel after seven aid workers from the charity World Central Kitchen, including three U.K. citizens, were killed in Israeli strikes. Israel said the attack was a mistake and dismissed two officers, while reprimanding others.

Germany has for decades been a staunch supporter of Israel. Days after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, Chancellor Olaf Scholz explained: “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.

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 U.N.-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 response to the case brought by South Africa, the ICJ ordered Israel in January to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and acts of genocide in Gaza.

In March, the court ordered Israel to take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, where experts say a famine is imminent.

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Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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