South Africa’s Genocide Allegations Against Israel at ICJ

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) started a two-day hearing starting January 11th, 2024 to decide on provisional measures in a case filed by South Africa against Israel. South Africa alleges Israel has violated its obligations under the Genocide Convention regarding acts against Palestinians in Gaza.

About the ICJ and the Genocide Convention

The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the UN that settles legal disputes between countries based on international law. It is not a criminal court and does not try individuals.

The Genocide Convention is an international treaty that first codified the crime of genocide. It defines genocide as five acts committed with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The acts are: killing members of the group, causing serious bodily/mental harm, inflicting destructive conditions of life, preventing births, and forcibly transferring children out of the group.

South Africa’s Allegations Against Israel

South Africa alleges Israel has committed several of these acts against Palestinians in Gaza with genocidal intent since October 2023. This, combined with the scale of killings, injuries, displacement and destruction, evidences an ongoing genocide, as per South Africa.

It cites statements by Israeli leaders to argue Israel has specific genocidal intent. South Africa also says Israel failed to prevent genocide and prosecute direct/public incitement to genocide.

Provisional Measures Sought by South Africa

South Africa wants urgent steps to prevent further harm to Palestinians in Gaza. It has asked the ICJ to order Israel to:

  • Immediately suspend military operations in Gaza
  • Prevent genocide as obligated under the Convention
  • Stop forced displacement, deprivation of food/water, access to aid and medical supplies
  • Refrain from further genocidal acts or incitement to genocide
  • Prevent destruction of evidence and allow access to fact-finders
  • Report on implementation of court’s order

ICJ’s Decision and Significance

The ICJ appears likely to issue a provisional measures order given South Africa has met the threshold. The order would be legally binding on all parties to the Genocide Convention.

Israel has dismissed the case while Palestine and many countries support South Africa’s move. India has not issued any statement.

ICJ’s Past Cases Under the Genocide Convention

This is not the first such case before the ICJ. Ukraine and The Gambia also filed cases against Russia and Myanmar respectively under the Convention in recent years.

Like The Gambia, South Africa has locus standi as a party to the Convention to prevent genocide. The ICJ’s ruling will have implications for the international rule of law.



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