ICJ avoids ceasefire, orders Israel to prevent genocide in Gaza
By Paul Ejime
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague on Friday ordered Israel to “take all measures within its powers to prevent the commission of any acts of genocide” against Palestinians in the besieged Hamas-controlled Gaza but fell short of calling for an immediate ceasefire as demanded by South Africa in its case of alleged genocide against Israel.
In its 35-minute majority ruling read by Justice Joan Donoghue, President of the 17-member panel of Judges, the Court also ordered Israel to “prevent and punish direct and public incitement to commit genocide; and to “immediately enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance in Gaza.”
Noting that it has jurisdiction on the case and dismissing Israel’s objection, the Court also ordered Israel to “prevent the destruction, and ensure the preservation, of evidence related to South Africa’s allegations.”
Both South Africa and Israel claimed “victory” over the ICJ ruling, which also ordered both parties to submit to the Court within one month, reports on their compliance with its orders.
South Africa had taken Israel to the ICJ alleging that Israel had violated the United Nations 1948 Genocide Convention as a result of the Israeli military ceaseless bombardments of Gaza in retaliation for the 7th of October 2023 raids on Israel by the Palestine militant group Hamas.
In reaching its conclusions, the ICJ cited statements by Israeli officials, including racial slurs and the reference to Palestinians as “human animals.”
The Court also referred to statements by UN senior officials describing the sufferings and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, as well as attacks by the Israeli military on infrastructure, homes, and hospitals, and denial of births in Gaza.
The Genocide Convention is the first human rights Treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948, signifying the international community’s commitment to ‘never again’ after the atrocities committed during the Second World War.
It describes genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy in whole, or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
The ICJ decisions are binding on State signatories, but the court has no means of enforcement.
Although Israel has a track record of disobeying UN decisions/resolutions, the Gaza case before the ICJ, a legal arm of the UN, is different since it touches on genocide.
Israel is among the UN’s 92-member State signatories to the 1948 Genocide Convention, which was informed by the mass killings of European Jews by Nazi Germany under Hitler, known as The Holocaust.
Also, apart from the outrage expressed in “Court of Public Opinion,” growing anti-Israeli sentiments over the humanitarian devastation in Gaza, support is waning for Israel, which continues to claim self-defence in the Gaza war.
Israeli officials said some 1,200 Israelis were killed, while 250 people of different nationalities were also taken hostage during the Hamas raids.
According to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, some 26,083 Palestinians have been killed and more than 64,400 wounded since the 7th of October 2023 Hamas raids on Israel.
South Africa deserves credit for escalating the Gaza crisis to the ICJ, although it remains to be seen whether the Court’s ruling would increase the pressure on the U.S. to persuade Israel, its major ally to end hostilities in Gaza in favour of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.
Could Africa take a cue from this development, to review its relations with external partners given the “many raging Gaza-like” conflicts on the continent and other parts of the World with negative impacts on the continent and its more than 1.3 billion people?
Incidentally, Justice Donoghue is American, but ICJ judges are supposed to be apolitical and supranational.