In a landmark ruling with far-reaching implications for international law, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered Israel to stop genocide against Palestinians, punish soldiers who commit genocidal acts, and facilitate humanitarian aid in Gaza.
The court sitting in The Hague, Netherlands, ruled in South Africa’s favour on Friday, January 26, and ordered the Zionist state to preserve evidence of genocide and submit monthly progress reports on measures taken.
However, the highest court in the United Nations (UN) system did not order any immediate ceasefire as requested by Pretoria, which filed its legal challenge in December last year accusing Israel of genocide. The court’s emergency measures were given the thumbs up by margins of 15 to two and 16 to one.
The ruling was met with mixed reactions globally, with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa insisting that his country would never be “passive bystanders” when genocide was being committed, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed genocide charges as “outrageous”.
The judges also found that senior Israeli officials and politicians, including President Isaac Herzog and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, had used dehumanizing language against Palestinians in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 attacks against the Zionist state.
In a 29-page judgement read by ICJ President Joan E. Donoghue, the court also ordered Israel to abide by the Genocide Convention and take measures to stop and punish any genocide incitement by its nations.
“The Court considers that, with regard to the situation described above, Israel must, in accordance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention, in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of this Convention, in particular: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. The Court recalls that these acts fall within the scope of Article II of the Convention when they are committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a group as such (see paragraph 44 above). The Court further considers that Israel must ensure with immediate effect that its military forces do not commit any of the above-described acts,” said Judge Donoghue.
“The Court is also of the view that Israel must take all measures within its power to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide in relation to members of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip. The Court further considers that Israel must take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Israel must also take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence related to allegations of acts within the scope of Article II and Article III of the Genocide Convention against members of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip,” she added in the ICJ judgement.
The ICJ reiterated that its rulings had “binding effect and thus create international legal obligations for any party to whom the provisional measures are addressed”. However, it stressed that its decision “given in the present proceedings in no way prejudges the question of the jurisdiction of the Court to deal with the merits of the case or any questions relating to the admissibility of the Application or to the merits themselves.”
“It leaves unaffected the right of the Governments of the Republic of South Africa and the State of Israel to submit arguments in respect of those questions.”
According to Judge Donoghue, there was urgency in hearing the case in the sense that there was real and irreparable harm that Israel could cause before a final judgment is issued.
The ICJ rejected Israel’s arguments that South Africa had no standing to take up the matter, and that the case had no merit in law. Neither did the court entertain the Zionist state’s claims that it had no jurisdiction.
The court determined that South Africa has the standing to take up the genocide matter, adding that there was indeed a dispute between the two nations over the Palestinian issue.
The ICJ found that certain actions depicted in South Africa’s oral presentation on January 11 were deemed to “plausibly” constitute genocide. The court maintained that Palestinians were recognised as a distinct group, and their protection under the Genocide Act was affirmed.
According to the court, it is evident that since October 7th, there has been a significant loss of Palestinian lives, the destruction of homes and civilian infrastructure, and a massive displacement of people.
The court highlighted the dire situation in Gaza, emphasizing the unprecedented conditions, deep trauma, and lack of safety that have rendered the area “unlivable.”
The court observed that Israel has stated that the war would persist for several months while the people of Gaza are enduring dire living conditions.
“In view of the fundamental values sought to be protected by the Genocide Convention, the Court considers that the plausible rights in question in these proceedings, namely the right of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to be protected from acts of genocide and related prohibited acts identified in Article III of the Genocide Convention and the right of South Africa to seek Israel’s compliance with the latter’s obligations under the Convention, are of such a nature that prejudice to them is capable of causing irreparable harm (see Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” Judge Denahue said.
The court agreed with South Africa’s concerns about the use of dehumanizing language by Israeli leaders towards Palestinians, noting that such language has been repeated.
The court noted that United Nations Relief and Works Agency Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini also addressed this issue in a statement on January 13.
There were mixed reactions across various capital cities in the world.
In a televised speech, Ramaphosa hailed the ICJ judgement as a victory for international law and humanity, adding his country had been vindicated. He said South Africa would not be a “passive bystander” and watch crimes of discrimination, oppression and dispossession similar to the ones South Africa experienced being perpetrated against other countries.
Ramaphosa was referencing South Africa’s apartheid past in which the white minority discriminated against the black majority before the 1994 democratic dispensation.
“Today the International Court of Justice has vindicated us. The Court has concluded that pursuant to Article 9 of the Convention, it has jurisdiction to adjudicate our application. The effect of the Order that the ICJ has granted today is that there is a plausible case of genocide. This marks an important first step in our quest to secure justice for the people of Gaza,” said Ramaphosa.
“We expect Israel as a self-proclaimed democracy and a state that respects the rule of law to abide by the measures handed down by the International Court of Justice. After more than half a century of occupation, dispossession, oppression and apartheid, the Palestinian people’s cries for justice have been heeded by an eminent organ of the United Nations.”
In Tel Aviv, Netanyahu dismissed the genocide accusation as “outrageous”. He asserted that Israel would abide by international law but keep exercising its right to self-defence against Hamas.
“The vile attempt to deny Israel this fundamental right is blatant discrimination against the Jewish state, and it was justly rejected. The charge of genocide levelled against Israel is not only false; it’s outrageous, and decent people everywhere should reject it. Israel will continue to defend itself against Hamas, a genocidal terror organization.”
“On October 7th, Hamas perpetrated the most horrific atrocities against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and it vows to repeat these atrocities again and again and again. Our war is against Hamas terrorists, not against Palestinian civilians. We will continue to facilitate humanitarian assistance and do our utmost to keep civilians out of harm’s way, even as Hamas uses civilians as human shields,” Netanyahu said.