National Implementation of IHL
Varvarin bridge case, Federal Constitutional Court, 13 August 2013
BVerfG, 2 BvR 2660/06 vom 13.8.2013

Federal Constitutional Court (last accessed on 30.07.2014)

On 13 August 2013, the German Federal Constitutional Court dismissed the claims lodged by the victims of the Varvarin bridge bombing.
On 30 May 1999, following NATO decision to attack the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a bridge in the Serbian town of Varvarin was struck by NATO fighter planes, causing death to 10 persons and injuries to 30, all of them civilians. German Armed Forces were not directly implicated in the conduct of the operation. Victims from the attack claimed compensation from Germany arguing that, by allowing NATO forces target the bridge, Germany violated its international obligations and domestic law.
Claims were rejected by both the courts of first and second instance. On 2 November 2006, Federal Supreme Court affirmed previous rulings stating that the relevant international and domestic provisions don’t grant individually enforceable rights; compensation resulting from these tort claims concerned exclusively the State of nationality of the claimants (in this case Serbia); there was no relevant obligation under customary international law; and that there was no right to compensation under the German domestic liability law which could cover these facts.
The applicants appealed this decision but the Federal Constitutional Court did not overturn it. However, it took the occasion to criticize some of the lower courts’ rulings. Indeed it found that the lower courts granted too large a margin of appreciation to German authorities regarding the application of the IHL principle of proportionality, and placed the burden of proof on the applicants with regards to the authorities’ knowledge of the facts. Still, the Court did not modify the previous jurisprudence on this issue, confirming that the ordinary regime of State responsibility does not cover damages caused by war.

Related laws and/or case-law: ‘Kunduz incident’ case, Regional Court of Bonn, 11 December 2013

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