January 20242024Middle EastHuman Rights Law

ICJ Rules on South Africa’s Genocide Case Against Israel

Sophia Alicea
Staff Writer

On January 26, Judge Joan Donoghue, President of the International Court of Justice, read out the ruling in a case brought by South Africa, which accused Israel of genocide in its campaign against Hamas in Gaza. The case brought against Israel from the Republic of South Africa was concerned with an adequate application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip, according to the United Nations. Israel has been charged by South Africa of committing “genocidal” acts with the goal of “destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial, and ethnic group” as argued by the Acting Chief Justice of South Africa, Dikgang Moseneke, who was appointed as the ad-hoc justice for South Africa, alongside Aharon Barak, the ad-hoc justice for Israel.

The ICJ ruled that Israel should prevent acts of genocide and the ICJ ruled there was plausible reason to believe there was a genocide being committed. South Africa invoked Article 9 of the Genocide Convention, which, provides guidelines for resolving disagreements between parties about how the convention should be interpreted, applied, or fulfilled. South Africa strongly contended that the “acts and omissions by Israel of which complaints are genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial, and ethnic group.” South Africa’s case further argued that Israel demonstrated “incontrovertible” intent to commit genocide in Gaza as noted by The International Court of Justice.

The ICJ’s ruling stipulated several emergency measures to prevent further harm to the Palestinian people. According to The Atlantic Council, the ruling isolates Israel on the global stage dispelling the notion that this is not a military operation, but an armed conflict with a potential for genocide due to targeting civilians, intentional displacement, and prolonged famine. The ruling will aid in humanitarian assistance of Palestinians as the Court has indicated an intent to target all Palestinians and to cause ethnic cleansing.

According to CNN, the Court has yet to ask Israel to suspend its military campaign in Gaza, however, Israel still has asked the court to throw out the case altogether. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, noted in an interview that although Israel has an “unwavering” commitment to international law, it also commits to protecting its citizens and therefore finds the ruling to be “blatant discrimination against the Jewish state.” Additionally, Netanyahu found the charges of genocide to be both “false” and “outrageous” according to an interview with CNN.

Immediately following the ruling from the world’s court, Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for a “military regime in Gaza” on January 27. Al Jazeera reports that Smotrich predicts the military will take control of Gaza. Ignoring the U.S. position that Gaza must not be occupied by Israeli authorities after the conflict, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich stated that Gaza will be governed by a military administration that will also manage civil concerns. As the Atlantic Council notes the ICJ is not a criminal court and it cannot declare someone “guilty” of genocide. The only thing the court may decide is whether Israel is accountable for breaking any particular Genocide Convention prohibitions. Furthermore, the ICJ lacks the authority to give directives concerning proof of crimes against humanity or war crimes. Israel should work to preserve the evidence related to “all atrocity crimes” committed during this conflict to guarantee future accountability. 

It is important to note that although the ICJ lacks criminal jurisdiction, the ICJ’s president, Judge Joan Donoghue, stated on Friday that the court had concluded that it could make a decision and, more precisely, that it could impose interim measures. This refuted Israel’s arguments that the International Court of Justice lacked jurisdiction over the matter. Al Jazeera reports that the judges ordered Israel to submit a report to the court within a month detailing its efforts to comply with the directive to take all necessary precautions to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza. According to Donoghue, the decision gives Israel new legal responsibilities on a global scale reports the Associated Press.

Image courtesy of the International Court of Justice

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