So, with all the talk of sovereign immunity lately due to the coronavirus lawsuits against the Chinese government, a thought occurred to me:

Would Hitler have been protected by sovereign immunity for his actions as Fuhrer, if he hadn't committed suicide in his bunker? If, after being captured by the Allies, would he have been able to argue in court that the charges against him should be dismissed because of sovereign immunity? Would such an argument have been successful, if it was heard in a fair court?

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    Nazi Germany lost a war, China hasn't. The rules are different when a war is involved and you are on the losing side.
    – user28517
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 4:24

2 Answers 2


Sovereign immunity is the wrong doctrine

Sovereign immunity relates to the inability of a sovereign or state to commit a legal wrong and immunity from civil or criminal liability. However, it applies to immunity under domestic law - Nazis were tried before Allied military tribunals. Hitler, had he survived would have been tried at Nuremburg along with the other Nazi leaders.

He could have argued Immunity from Prosecution under International law

He would have failed as the other Nazi leaders did.

Immunity only relates to domestic crimes - international crimes like crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide are not so protected.


China has sovereign immunity, Germany has sovereign immunity. Xi Jinping doesn't have sovereign immunity, nor did Adolph Hitler. Sovereign immunity is something United States law gives to other countries, not the leaders of other countries. This prevents most lawsuits against China from succeeding in the US.

On official visits, leaders of other countries are granted diplomatic immunity, but otherwise they can be convicted of crimes in the US. For example, Manuel Noriega, the de facto ruler of Panama, was captured by US forces during the 1989 invasion of Panama and later convicted by a US court for various drug smuggling related crimes.

However at the end of the World War II, the Nazi war criminals weren't being tried by US courts or for violating US law. They were tried by an Allied military tribunal for violating international law and the law of war. These tribunals didn't recognize any form of immunity.

  • Sovereign immunity is something every country's law gives to specific bodies or organisations, usually including themselves. They don't need the USA to approve it, since the USA doesn't have jurisdiction over them, and even with USA "approval" are subject to suit or prosecution when their own laws don't provide for immunity.
    – user4657
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 5:48
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    @Nij Without the US granting sovereign immunity to China, China could be sued in a US court. The fact that China grants sovereign immunity to itself is irrelevant. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act provides certain exceptions and under these exceptions foreign states can and have been successfully sued in US courts, but none of these exceptions appear to apply in the case referred to by the original poster.
    – Ross Ridge
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 6:50
  • Do you think China cares what a US court tells it to do? Do you think Australia cares about what the USA thinks when someone there sues China? Do you think anybody in Europe cared whether US law applied when prosecuting German nationals?
    – user4657
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 10:19
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    @Nij China is only able to claim sovereign immunity in US courts because of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Without this defence, China's assets in the US would be at risk from the lawsuits the the original poster mentioned, and it's likely that China does in fact care about them.
    – Ross Ridge
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 15:25

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