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Ferrini v. Federal Republic of Germany

This case summary is being revised and will be updated soon

Court Supreme Court, Italy
Case number 5044
Decision title Sentenza
Decision date 11 March 2004
  • Luigi Ferrini
  • Federal Republic of Germany
Keywords forced labor, immunity (sovereign), reparations, war crimes, World War II
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Procedural history

On 23 September 1998, Luigi Ferrini took proceedings against the German Government before the Tribunal of Arezzo, in Italy, seeking damages for the physical and psychological injury suffered as a result of his capture and deportation. Germany pleaded jurisdictional immunity under customary international law.

On 3 November 2000, the Tribunal of Arezzo dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the acts of which Germany was accused were acts performed jure imperii. Ferrini appealed against this decision, but the Court of Appeal of Florence confirmed the previous judgment. Ferrini challenged this second decision before the Supreme Court (Corte suprema di cassazione) exclusively on the point of jurisdiction.

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Related developments

On 23 December 2008, Germany filed an application instituting proceedings against Italy before the International Court of Justice, arguing that '[i]n recent years, Italian judicial bodies have repeatedly disregarded the jurisdictional immunity of Germany as a sovereign State.'

On 3 February 2012, the International Court of Justice indeed found 'that the Italian Republic ha[d] violated its obligation to respect the immunity which the Federal Republic of Germany enjoys under international law by allowing civil claims to be brought against it based on violations of international humanitarian law committed by the German Reich between 1943 and 1945'. For more information, see this ICJ press release.

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Legally relevant facts

Luigi Ferrini is an Italian citizen who was captured and deported to Germany by Nazi troops in August 1944, where he was forced to work and subsequently transferred to a concentration camp until April 1945.

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Court's holding and analysis

On 11 March 2004, the Italian Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal’s judgment and denied state immunity to Germany. The Court thus transferred the case again to the Tribunal of Arezzo for examination of the merits.

The Italian Supreme Court held that while customary law prescribes immunity from jurisdiction of a foreign state for acts which are the expression of its sovereign authority, such immunity should be lifted when such acts amount to international crimes. For the Court, violations of fundamental human rights encroach upon universal values protected by jus cogens norms, which lie at the top of the hierarchy of norms in the international legal order, and thus take precedent over conflicting law, including state immunity. The judgment paved the way for hundreds of damage claims against Germany in Italian courts.

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Related cases

Other cases related to sovereign immunity for international crimes