Certain Property (Liechtenstein v. Germany)
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Overview of the case
By an Application filed in the Registry on 1 June 2001, Liechtenstein instituted proceedings against Germany relating to a dispute concerning
“decisions of Germany, in and after 1998, to treat certain property of Liechtenstein nationals as German assets having been ‘seized for the purposes of reparation or restitution, or as a result of the state of war’ — i.e., as a consequence of World War II —, without ensuring any compensation for the loss of that property to its owners, and to the detriment of Liechtenstein itself”.
The historical context of the dispute was as follows. In 1945, Czechoslovakia confiscated certain property belonging to Liechtenstein nationals, including Prince Franz Josef II of Liechtenstein, pursuant to the “Beneš Decrees”, which authorized the confiscation of “agricultural property” (including buildings, installations and movable property) of “all persons belonging to the German and Hungarian people, regardless of their nationality”. A special regime with regard to German external assets and other property seized in connection with the Second World War was created under the Convention on the Settlement of Matters Arising out of the War and the Occupation (Chapter Six), signed in 1952 at Bonn. In 1991, a painting by the Dutch master Pieter van Laer was lent by a museum in Brno (Czechoslovakia) to a museum in Cologne (Germany) for inclusion in an exhibition. This painting had been the property of the family of the Reigning Prince of Liechtenstein since the eighteenth century ; it was confiscated in 1945 by Czechoslovakia under the Beneš Decrees. Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, acting in his personal capacity, then filed a lawsuit in the German courts to have the painting returned to him as his property, but that action was dismissed on the ground that, under Article 3, Chapter Six, of the Settlement Convention (paragraphs 1 and 3 of which are still in force), no claim or action in connection with measures taken against German external assets in the aftermath of the Second World War was admissible in German courts. A claim brought by Prince Hans-Adam II before the European Court of Human Rights regarding the decisions of the German courts was also dismissed.
In its Application, Liechtenstein requested the Court “to adjudge and declare that Germany has incurred international legal responsibility and is bound to make appropriate reparation to Liechtenstein for the damage and prejudice suffered”. It further requested “that the nature and amount of such reparation should, in the absence of agreement between the parties, be assessed and determined by the Court, if necessary in a separate phase of the proceedings”. As a basis for the Court’s jurisdiction, Liechtenstein invoked Article I of the European Convention for the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, signed at Strasbourg on 29 April 1957.
Liechtenstein filed its Memorial on 28 March 2002, within the time-limit fixed by the Court. On 27 June 2002, Germany filed preliminary objections to jurisdiction and admissibility and the proceedings on the merits were accordingly suspended. On 15 November 2002, Liechtenstein filed its written observations on the preliminary objections of Germany within the time-limit prescribed by the President of the Court.
Following public hearings on the preliminary objections of Germany in June 2004, the Court delivered its Judgment on 10 February 2005. The Court began by examining Germany’s first preliminary objection, which argued that the Court lacked jurisdiction because there was no dispute between the Parties. The Court rejected this objection, finding that there existed a legal dispute between the Parties, namely a dispute as to whether, by applying Article 3, Chapter Six, of the Settlement Convention to Liechtenstein property that had been confiscated by Czechoslovakia in 1945, Germany was in breach of the international obligations it owed to Liechtenstein and, if so, what was the extent of its international responsibility.
The Court then considered Germany’s second objection, which required it to decide, in the light of the provisions of Article 27 (a) of the European Convention for the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, whether the dispute related to facts or situations that arose before or after 18 February 1980, the date on which that Convention entered into force between Germany and Liechtenstein. The Court noted in this respect that it was not contested that the dispute had been triggered by the decisions of the German courts in the aforementioned case. The critical issue, however, was not the date on which the dispute arose, but the date of the facts or situations in relation to which the dispute arose. In the Court’s view, the dispute brought before it could only relate to the events that transpired in the 1990s if, as argued by Liechtenstein, in that period, Germany had either departed from a previous common position that the Settlement Convention did not apply to Liechtenstein property, or if German courts, by applying their earlier case law under the Settlement Convention for the first time to Liechtenstein property, had applied that Convention “to a new situation” after the critical date. Having found that neither was the case, the Court concluded that, although these proceedings had been instituted by Liechtenstein as a result of decisions by German courts concerning a painting by Pieter van Laer, the events in question had their source in specific measures taken by Czechoslovakia in 1945, which had led to the confiscation of property owned by some Liechtenstein nationals, including Prince Franz Jozef II of Liechtenstein, as well as in the special regime created by the Settlement Convention, and that the source or real cause of the dispute was accordingly to be found in the Settlement Convention and the Beneš Decrees. The Court therefore upheld Germany’s second preliminary objection, finding that it could not rule on Liechtenstein’s claims on the merits.
This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.