Facts: Nottebohm was born in Germany, and was a German citizen, although he lived in Guatemala since 1903, and conducted a prosperous business there, but never became a citizen of Guatemala. In 1939, he applied to become a citizen of Liechtenstein. The application was approved even though a requirement was that he be in residence there for at least 3 years, but there was an exception and he became a citizen of Liechtenstein. When he tried to re-enter Guatemala in 1943, he was refused entry (probably because of his original German citizenship and because of WWII). Liechtenstein offered Nottebohm protection against the government of Guatemala and sued Guatemala in the International Court of Justice. However, the government of Guatemala argued that Nottebohm did not gain Liechtenstein citizenship for the purposes of international law.
Issue: Whether the conferment of the Lichtenstein citizenship is not contrary to international law, and if Lichtenstein's claim on behalf of Nottebohm is admissible in court.
Holding: The court agreed with Guatemala and held that claims by Lichtenstein were inadmissible.
Reasoning: Although the Court stated that it is the sovereign right of all states to determine its own citizens and criteria for becoming one in municipal law, such a process would have to be scrutinized on the international plain in questions of diplomatic protection. The Court upheld the principle of effective nationality, where the national must prove a meaningful connection to the state in question. This principle was previously applied only in cases of dual nationality to determine which nationality should be used in a given case. However, Nottebohm had forfeited his German nationality and thus only had the nationality of Liechtenstein.
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Case notes for The Nottebohm Case: