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 régime 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.
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.
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 rejecting Germany’s first preliminary objection, which argued that the Court lacked jurisdiction because there was no dispute between the Parties.
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 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 régime 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.