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ICJ Delivers First Ruling on South Africa’s Genocide Case against Israel

January 26, 2024
Photo credit: France24.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on Friday, 26 January, in favor of provisional measures in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip.

The provisional measures include several directives to Israel in response to South Africa’s request, mandating Israel to implement measures aimed at preventing acts of genocide in the Gaza Strip, including the prevention and punishment of incitement to genocide. Additionally, the court has stipulated that Israel must facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid into the Strip. The rulings came in a sweeping majority of 15-2 or 16-1 depending on which measures the vote was on.

While the court has compelled Israel to undertake additional measures for the protection of Palestinians, it has not explicitly ordered the cessation of military operations in the Strip.

The Hague-based court also ruled that it has jurisdiction to proceed with the case between South Africa and Israel, acknowledguing that the parties have “clearly opposite views” and that this is an interim stage, with the merits of the case due for further examination. However, it added: “In the court’s view, at least some of the acts and omissions alleged by South Africa to have been committed by Israel in Gaza appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the [Genocide] convention. … The court considers it cannot accede to Israel’s request that the case be removed from the list.”

The ruling did not address the question of whether Israel has committed genocide, a determination that may take considerable time. Instead, the court prescribed urgent measures to prevent the situation in Gaza from deteriorating further during the ongoing case. 

“The court considers that the civilian population in the Gaza Strip remains extremely vulnerable,” Judge Joan Donoghue, the ICJ’s president said. “The court considers that the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is at serious risk of deteriorating further before the court renders its final judgment.”

Riyad Al-Maliki, Palestine’s foreign minister, welcomed the provisional measures ruled by the ICJ in a statement, according to Reuters.

“ICJ judges assessed the facts and the law, ruled in favor of humanity and international law,” Al-Maliki said.

South Africa’s case, presented on 11 January, alleges that Israel’s action, including the killing of Palestinians in Gaza and creating conditions leading to their physical destruction, violates the UN Genocide Convention. 

Israel rejected the premise of the case, arguing that if there are genocidal acts, they are perpetrated against Israel, not by Israel, referring to the Hamas-led attack on 7 October. Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas as a response, with the U.S. opposing South Africa’s case and some EU members and Britain not supporting it. 

Here is a recap of the ICJ’s directives:

  • The court has jurisdiction to rule over the case.
  • Israel has been ordered to take measures to prevent acts of genocide in the Gaza enclave.
  • The court ruled that Israel must prevent and punish the incitement of genocide in the Strip.
  • Israel was also ordered to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza,
  • The court stopped short of ordering a cessation of military operations in the enclave.

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