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Human Rights and State Immunities

Head of Section:

Anne Peters

Valentina Volpe

About the Project:

International Conference ‘Remedies against Immunity? – Reconciling International and Domestic Law after the Italian Constitutional Court’s Sentenza 238/2014’

This conference took place from 11 to 13 May 2017 at Villa Vigoni, Lake Como, Italy

Conference Website

The Italian Constitutional Court’s judgment 238/2014 created a legal and political deadlock between Germany and Italy. In its ruling the Court refused to accord Germany immunity from Italian jurisdiction in civil proceedings on the compensation of World War II victims and thus indirectly challenged the 2012 judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which had upheld Germany’s entitlement to state immunity. Since 2015 a series of judgments by several Italian courts have given new life to the case. Courts in Florence, Piacenza and Rome ordered Germany to make reparations to Italian deportation victims and their heirs. Germany, in turn, contends that its state immunity bars the Italian courts’ jurisdiction and refuses to appear before the Italian courts. Numerous similar cases are currently pending.

Judgment 238/2014 exemplifies the tension between state immunity as one of the core rules of international law on the one hand and universal human rights, including a potential right to remedy, on the other. More than three years after the Sentenza, a solution balancing these antagonistic concerns does not seem to be in sight. Apart from the conflict between state immunity and human rights protection, the judgment raises further theoretical questions concerning the relationship between international law and national constitutional law, the role of domestic courts in the formation and change of international customary law, as well as the separation of powers in a democratic state.

It is against this background that the MPIL (Anne Peters and Valentina Volpe), in cooperation with the German-Italian Centre for European Excellence Villa Vigoni, the Istituto di ricerche sulla pubblica amministrazione and with financial support by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, organised a binational conference, which saw the participation of leading figures in the field of constitutional and international law. This was the first conference to bring together experts from both countries to work together towards possible solutions to the given issue and discuss their proposals on an enlarged political scale. The conference was thus not confined to a mere academic perspective, rather technical academic expertise was put to the service of a political aim, i.e. durable interstate conflict resolution.

The conference was accompanied by the Verfassungsblog which published summaries of the single conference contributions and live streamed the final day of the conference (please see link below). The conveners Anne Peters, Valentina Volpe, and Stefano Battini are currently working on the publication of an edited volume with selected contributions by the conference speakers as a relevant academic follow-up to the conference.


Anette Kreutzfeld

Phone: +49 (0) 6221 482307

Lead Institutions





  • Beinlich, Leander: "Closing a justice gap or opening Pandora's box? A conference on the Italian Constitutional Court's Sentenza 238/2014 as well as the relationship between state immunity and claims of compensation for war crimes". In: Questione Giustizia, 21.07.2017. QJ_Beinlich_21.07.17 (PDF, 334.9 KB)
  • Müller, Reinhard: "Ein Fass ohne Boden? Italienische Gerichte fordern von Deutsch- land weiter Entschädigung für historisches Unrecht". In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 30.05.2017. FAZ_Müller_30.05.17 (PDF, 575.8 KB)
  • Peters Anne, Lagrange Evelyne, Oeter Stefan, Tomuschat Christian (eds.): Immunities in the Age of Global Constitutionalism. Brill Nijhoff, Leiden and Boston, 2015, 368 p..
  • The law of immunity of states, of international organisations, and of public officials is one of the most important and most controversial topics of international law. The book consists of five parts: ‘State Immunity – National Practice’; State Immunity before the ICJ – The case Germany v Italy; ‘Commercial Activities and State Immunity’; ‘Immunity and Impunity’; and ‘Immunities of International Organisations’. Although immunities are in principle firmly anchored in international law, their precise legal implications are often unclear. The book takes up a number of new trends and challenges in this field and assesses them within the framework of global constitutionalism and multilevel governance.
    Contains chapters in both English and French.

    Reviewed by:

    François Larocque, The Canadian Yearbook of International Law 53 (2015) 639-643.

    Natalino Ronzitti, The Italian Yearbook of International Law 24 (2014) 582-587.

Further Links

Verfassungsblog – "Remedies Against Immunity?" Online Debate