By Our Correspondent
NEW DELHI – The ruling handed down by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordering Israel to take all measures within its power to stop the acts within the scope of Genocide Convention in its ongoing military operations in Gaza is a momentous occasion for international diplomacy, as it has approved South Africa’s genocide claim against Israel, while stopping short of ordering an immediate ceasefire.
The ICJ, functioning as the United Nations’ highest judicial body, has spelt out provisional measures in its January 26 verdict after finding that 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 of 1948, to which Israel is also a signatory.
Highlighting that the interim ruling creates binding international legal obligations, ICJ president, Judge Joan E. Donoghue, ordered Israel to report to the court within a month on the steps taken to ensure compliance. The U.N.’s top court took note of several statements made by senior Israeli officials that South Africa claimed were reflective of their genocidal intent.
In particular, the ICJ referred to remarks made by Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in ordering a complete siege of Gaza and telling troops that they are fighting against “human animals”. Though Israel may decide not to abide by the ruling, as the court does not have any enforcement powers, the verdict has the potential to make a significant impact on the global public opinion.
In the public hearings conducted at ICJ from January 11 to 12, South Africa argued that Israel’s military operations in Gaza violated the Genocide Convention and that it had been carrying out hostilities against Palestinians even before Hamas’s action on October 7. In the brutal military operations in Gaza, Israel has so far killed more than 26,000 Palestinians and destroyed almost the entire enclave.
The ICJ also placed reliance on reports by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organisation, and the U.N. officials to highlight the indiscriminate killing of civilians and Israel’s blockade of humanitarian assistance which have pushed Palestinians to the brink of famine.
Israel, on the other hand, contended that there was no dispute between the parties and that the scope of its military operation was limited to destroying Hamas. It also accused South Africa of relying on statistics provided by Hamas on casualties.
South Africa, which took on the extraordinary responsibility of making Israel accountable for its violations of humanitarian law, now stands vindicated, as the ICJ has accepted its standing to approach the court and found its preliminary submissions tenable. The ICJ has directed Israel to take effective and immediate measures to ensure humanitarian assistance and basic services to Gaza.
Despite Israel and its allies highlighting the absence of an order to stop military action, it cannot be ignored that the order is meant to achieve the objective of preventing genocide. Moreover, the ruling is a moral and legal indictment of Israel for bombing health facilities, designated safe areas, and densely populated areas in Gaza.
The order makes it difficult for Israel to choose a policy of deliberate non-compliance. The world will compel Israel into complying with the measures and Israeli leaders will be forced to avoid making the statements which may be seen as inciting genocide. The part of the ruling that asks for a report in one month on steps taken to implement the measures can only mean that Israel has to demonstrate progress on the extent of humanitarian aid it has permitted.
South Africa had requested for nine provisional measures in its genocide claim against Israel. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said after the ICJ pronounced its ruling that his country’s decision to drag Israel to the top court with the charges of genocide had been vindicated. Ramaphosa said in a national television broadcast that the ICJ’s verdict was a victory for international law, for human rights, and for justice.
The President said the ICJ ruling marked an important first step in South Africa’s quest to secure justice for the people of Gaza. “We are also a people who were the victims of the crime of apartheid. We know what apartheid looks like. We experienced and lived through it,” he said. Following this judgment, there should now be a more concerted effort towards a ceasefire, he added.
The Genocide Convention of 1948 was the first human rights treaty to be adopted by the U.N. General Assembly. It primarily arose from a commitment to never again allow mass killing of people such as the Holocaust. South Africa’s case was based upon Article II which lays down that genocide means acts such as killing members of a national, racial, ethnic or religious group; causing serious bodily and mental harm to the members of the group; and deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
South Africa also accused Israel of causing hunger, dehydration, and starvation in Gaza by impeding sufficient humanitarian assistance, cutting off water, food, fuel, and electricity, and failing to provide shelter or sanitation to Palestinians in Gaza, including its 19 lakh internally displaced people. South Africa put the death toll at 23,000, 70% of them being women and children.
South Africa’s 84-page lawsuit, filed on December 29, 2023, asked the court to order Israel to suspend military operations in and against Gaza, not escalate military operations any further, allow access to adequate food, water, fuel, shelter, hygiene and sanitation, prevent the destruction of Palestinian life in Gaza, including psychological damage, not destroy evidence that would support genocide allegations, nor deny international organisations such as fact-finding missions, access to Gaza to help preserve this evidence.
According to the international observers, the ICJ’s ruling amounts to rebuttal of the establishment media notion that the calamity unfolding in Gaza was a war between adversaries. It is the prima facie evidence of a deliberate campaign by Israel to erase the Palestinian people and nation. The court’s judgement is also satisfying because it refutes the now discredited claim made by the diplomats in the capitals of the western countries that South Africa’s petition was meritless and counterproductive.