ICJ ruling in SA’s genocide case against Israel lauded as ‘historic’ and victory for human rights 

ICJ ruling in SA’s genocide case against Israel lauded as ‘historic’ and victory for human rights 
Pro-Palestinian protesters watch proceedings outside the International Court of Justice during the court ruling in The Hague, Netherlands, on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. At the end of December, South Africa accused Israel in the International Court of Justice of committing genocide in Gaza, a charge vigorously denied by the Israeli government. Photographer: Ksenia Kuleshova/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The order handed down by the International Court of Justice has been hailed as a ‘landmark victory’ for international law and human rights, as well as a ‘hope for humanity’ in both the political and civil society spheres, despite no ceasefire.

Drawing on South Africa’s own experiences of dispossession, discrimination and state-sponsored violence, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that South Africans cannot passively observe similar injustices being perpetrated elsewhere. 

Ramaphosa was addressing the country following South Africa’s unprecedented victory at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday, 26 January. 

The World Court in The Hague ordered that Israel prevent the killing and harming people in Gaza, after South Africa filed a 84-page application at the ICJ on 29 December 2023, accusing Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, and seeking to halt its attack on Gaza as a provisional measure, pending the court’s final decision on whether Israel is perpetrating genocide. 

Ramaphosa labelled the ICJ ruling as a “victory for international law, for human rights, and above all, for justice”. 

“The court in its judgment affirmed South Africa’s right to take Israel to court – even though it is not a party to the conflict in Gaza,” he said. 

“Some have told us to mind our own business. Others have said it was not our place. And yet it is very much our place, as people who know too well the pain of dispossession, discrimination and state-sponsored violence.   

“We, as South Africans, will not be passive bystanders and watch the crimes that were visited upon us being perpetrated elsewhere. We stand on the side of freedom for all. We stand on the side of justice,” he said. 

South Africa welcomed the measures that the court ordered by majority decision, ruling that the Israel military should not commit acts of genocide against Palestinians.

“This order is binding on Israel and must be respected by all states that are party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” Ramaphosa said. 

“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 ICJ,” he said.  

South Africa’s vindication by the ICJ in its ruling, Ramaphosa said, “marks an important first step in our quest to secure justice for the people of Gaza”.

“We will not waver in our commitment to the Palestinian people and their quest for self-determination. Our own painful history obliges us to do no less. We thank the International Court of Justice for upholding its role of achieving justice, promoting peace, preventing genocide and holding those guilty of genocide accountable.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: No ceasefire, but SA wins substantive rights measures in the Gaza genocide case

On 11 January 2024, South Africa’s top legal team at The Hague argued that Israel has genocidal intent in Palestine, and requested the court to order several provisional measures to end the carnage. These measures included suspending military action; opening humanitarian corridors to allow access to adequate food, water, fuel, hygiene and sanitation; and allowing the free and safe birth of Palestinian babies.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Nothing will stop this suffering, except an order from this court’ – SA sets out the evidence against Israel

Israel’s legal team responded on 12 January, arguing that South Africa empties the word “genocide” of its unique force and meaning. Israel’s lawyers asked the ICJ to throw out South Africa’s “curated and inaccurate” case. 

On Friday, the World Court rejected Israel’s bid to throw out South Africa’s genocide case. 

While the ICJ stopped short of ordering a ceasefire, it has ordered Israel to not commit genocide in its military operation in Gaza, to allow humanitarian aid into the enclave, to preserve evidence and to report back to the court by 26 February on its progress. 

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has destroyed most of Gaza City, and by 26 January had killed more than 26,000 people and wounded more than 60,000, according to Gaza’s health ministry. 

Responding to the ICJ’s ruling, Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riyadh Maliki, said that Palestine welcomed the provisional measures ordered by the court.

South Africans reactions to ICJ ruling on genocide allegations

President Cyril Ramaphosa, left, and the Deputy Ambassador of Palestine, Bassam Elhussiny, react as they watch the International Court of Justice ruling on the emergency measures requested by South Africa against Israel over its war on the Gaza Strip, in Johannesburg on 26 January 2024. The ICJ ruled that Israel must take steps to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza but stopped short of ordering a ceasefire and has not ruled on the merits of the genocide allegations. (Photo: Alaister Russell / EPA-EFE )

“We call on all states to ensure that all provisional measures ordered by the court are implemented, including by Israel, the occupying power … States now have clear legal obligations to stop Israel’s genocidal war on the Palestinian people in Gaza and to make sure that they are not complicit.  

“The ICJ order is an important reminder that no state is above the law. It should serve as a wake-up call for Israel and actors who enabled its entrenched impunity,” he said. 

On the decision of the ICJ, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that “Israel has an inherent right to defend itself”.   

“Israel’s commitment to international law is unwavering. Equally unwavering is our sacred commitment to continue to defend our country and defend our people. 

“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,” Netenyahu said. 

‘Landmark decision’

Speaking to Daily Maverick after the ICJ ruling, the former director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Craig Mokhiber, described the court’s decision as “historic”.

Mokhiber, who is a human rights lawyer with more than three decades of experience in the field, resigned from the organisation in November 2023, protesting that the United Nations was “failing” in its duty to prevent what he described was a “textbook case of genocide” unfolding in Gaza.  

Pro-Israel supporters march towards the International Court of Justice during the court ruling in The Hague, Netherlands, on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. At the end of December, South Africa accused Israel in the ICJ of committing genocide in Gaza, a charge vigorously denied by the Israeli government. Photographer: Ksenia Kuleshova/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“After the failure of so many international institutions to act appropriately to stop the genocide, this was in a sense, the final appeal of the international system that South Africa brought to the World Court … The ICJ has ruled on provisional measures and has ordered Israel to immediately stop the killings and the harming of people in Gaza; inflicting conditions designed to bring about their destruction; to punish incitement; to allow humanitarian aid; to save evidence; and they’re under the supervision of the court – they have to report back within a month,” Mokhiber said. 

“That is extraordinary and historic.” 

Mokhiber said, while it was not a ceasefire, the ICJ had “rejected every argument made by Israel”. He said Israel would likely continue its genocidal acts by claiming military necessity, and the mandated report to the court next month was crucial because of this. 

Associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, Balkees Jarrah, called the World Court’s ruling a “landmark decision”, which was in “recognition of the dire situation in Gaza, where civilians face starvation and are being killed daily at levels unprecedented in the recent history of Israel and Palestine”.

“The court’s clear and binding orders raise the stakes for Israel’s allies to back up their stated commitment to a global rules-based order by helping ensure compliance with this watershed ruling.”

The founder of the South African humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers, Imtiaz Sooliman, said in a statement: “There is hope for humanity. 

“We may not have achieved a ceasefire, but the conditions laid down by the court cannot practically be implemented without a ceasefire or a substantial reduction in hostilities,” he said.

Responses from political quarters

The DA – after previously facing both internal and external contestation over its stance on Israel’s assault on Gaza and its refusal to call clearly for a ceasefire – said it “welcomed the ICJ’s swift pronouncement on provisional measures”.

The party’s spokesperson on international relations, Emma Powell, said the DA mourned the loss of innocent life and “urged the court to move swiftly in determining whether or not the substantive arguments brought by South Africa in respect of the accusation of genocide have merit in international law”.

Read more  in Daily Maverick: Party divisions on SA genocide case against Israel – newbies Change Starts Now, Rise Mzansi in support, Maimane’s Bosa says it’s a ‘misstep

“The time has come for the international community to recommit towards building lasting peace in the region. 

“To make peace possible, the DA calls for: Israel to abide by the ICJ’s ruling to avoid and prevent genocide; the Israeli Prime Minister to immediately recommit to a negotiated two-state solution; all civilian hostages kidnapped on and after 7 October to be returned; Hamas to disarm; and fresh elections to be held in Palestine under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority,” Powell said. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ghaleb Cachalia quits DA over Gaza, spits fire at wider party issues

The Good party’s Brett Herron called on Israel’s powerful friends in the Global North” to take responsibility for enforcing the interim measures the ICJ has ordered Israel to urgently implement to reduce the suffering in Palestine.

“If these friends, led by the United States – which has used its veto power at the United Nations to block resolutions calling for a ceasefire – don’t pressurise Israel to comply with the ruling of the United Nations court, they will place themselves in the same immoral league as Russia, which ignored the court’s ruling in respect of its war on Ukraine,” Herron said. 

Pro-Palestinian supporters watch proceedings outside the International Court of Justice during the court ruling in The Hague, Netherlands, on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. At the end of December, South Africa accused Israel in the ICJ of committing genocide in Gaza, a charge vigorously denied by the Israeli government. Photographer: Ksenia Kuleshova/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Good party commended the South African government for taking steps to intervene in Israel’s destruction of Palestine.  

After decades of violations of international law, land occupations and the implementation of what many regard as apartheid policies to subdue Palestinian aspirations for justice and equality, Herron said this was the world’s first-ever official finding of fault by the State of Israel.

The EFF welcomed the ICJ ruling – describing it as “nothing short of remarkable” – but said it remained “disconcerting that the court refrained from mandating Israel to cease its military operations in Gaza and implement an immediate ceasefire.” 

SAJBD and Zionist Federation 

Both the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) have rejected ongoing calls for a ceasefire and stated that the ruling was a “devastating blow to ANC government” with the court “denying the ANC government’s request for a ceasefire”.

The SAJBD said the court’s call for the hostages to be freed was a fundamental requirement for the end of the conflict, and that “it is regrettable that the SA government did not put pressure on Hamas to release the hostages from the outset”.

The entities criticised the government for not playing a more constructive role in engaging both sides – “as they have in every other conflict to help to bring an actual end to this war”, according to the SAJBD. 

The SAZF said that the court’s decision highlighted “a misguided effort by the ANC, showing a lack of understanding of the Israel-Hamas conflict”. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Alfreda Frantzen says:

    Israel should counter attack South Africa. With an official murder rate of 75 people Per Day! the SA government is clearly not protecting its citizens.

    • Lyle Pillay says:

      Well said !They are more concerned about fattening their own pockets.

    • Lyle Pillay says:

      South africa has been very quiet about other atrocities even with our own African neighbors makes you wonder whats the incentive or why now all of a sudden the compassion but cannot help their own citizens who are murdered daily .That is the biggest tragedy ! Money Talks.

  • Mkili Muzenha says:

    South Africa is putting its ideals on the world stage
    Legal analysis aside, one of the key aspects of this case is who actually brought it up. An African nation pursuing a case of global importance before the ICJ is itself notable.

    South Africa, with the historical backdrop of apartheid, has long supported the Palestinian cause. The country’s long-standing support, and its cultural and historical identification with the Palestinian people, should serve as a counter to anyone who might claim that South Africa only undertook this process for publicity or a desire on the part of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to look good before the elections later this year. South Africans have taken pride in the fact they are prosecuting this case at the highest level, with South African lawyers welcomed home with patriotic flag waving.

    It’s clear that South Africa’s motivation to bring this case before the ICJ comes from a genuine sense of identification and purpose.

    In addition, while this case obviously matters most and has the largest implications for those in the Levant, do not overlook the implications for Africa. What is clear from this case, regardless of the result, is that an African nation was willing to put the resources behind advocating its positions and ideals on the world stage toward resolving a global issue—and the world has been forced to pay attention to that view. At the very least, this shows that African nations can engage with and lead on world issues

  • Jeff Robinson says:

    I am totally for the liberation of Palestine, but COMPLETELY AGAINST any action taken in the name of jihad. What chills me deeply is how often I hear child victims being calle ‘martyrs’ as if they willingly accepted death or horrible injury. A question which I think Minister Pandor and our president should have to answer unequivocally is: If you somehow have influence with the Hamas upper echelon, would you ask them to surrender? Please let us not ignore the role of religious delusion on both sides in this war – children of Abraham killing children of Abraham. The evolution of our species still has a long way to go.

  • dexter m says:

    For a provisional judgement this was the best result for both parties. And by not ordering a ceasefire and almost a unanimous vote the court kept its credibility and impartiality . The surprise for me is how the judges voted especially the Israeli Judge where he voted yes ( that enhanced his credibility going forward) . Look forward to
    1. How the Israeli Judicial System ( both Military and Civilian) handles this ruling ,the pressure now falls on Israeli Attorney General and IDF Prosecutor General . As a claimed democracy that upholds western values they have a lot to lose if they fail to act.
    2. seeing the US rescind the removal of Uganda from AGOA and what other incentives were offered to Uganda.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    Still waiting for email for the permanent moderation please DM

  • PJ R says:

    Well done SA on your victory? Can’t fix a single pit toilet. Good job team SA

  • Lyle Pillay says:

    Yay !!! South Africa is gonna receive a huge payout from their boss IRAN.
    Hope it goes to good use for us South African citizens.

  • Lyle Pillay says:

    Just wish the minister was as involved in the matters of fellow South Africans but I guess there’s no big payday there such a pity.

  • Jucy Malema says:

    Its also been called delusional, money wasting and hypothetical

  • Dario Siefe says:

    I personally don’t believe that this ruling will alter anything as according to the Israeli’s they are conducting their war in accordance to the Genava Convention and the rules of engagement. This includes humanitarian aid, safe corridors etc.
    So which police force or other NGO body is going to monitor the war zone. Definitely not UNRWA as it’s been proven to be corrupt and assisting Hamas outside of their madate.
    It’s all a farce and the questions linger about South Africa’s involvement.
    Their support has been totally lopsided and only mildly condemned Hamas after some pressure applied by various parties.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    I don’t believe in co-incidence, there are real causal situations, decisions and hard, logical reasons behind most “co-incidences”.

    Logic more than “suggests” that Iran is behind the decision to take Israel to the ICJ, and made a large cash contribution to the party’s coffers last year, 2023. No one has produced any real evidence but the party’s acute financial problems disappeared overnight after an ANC delegation, including senior ministers, paid a visit to Iran. Funding by a foreign government, or their proxies, would, of course be illegal, so the ANC cannot admit such, but the inference is clear for all who believe in “join the dots” analysis.

  • Hendrik van Zyl says:

    What victory? The IDF can and should continue its noble destruction of a genocidal terrorist group. Nothing that the ICJ has handed down has stopped this. #ANCNOTINMYNAME!

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Cruel to innocent civilians or every Palestinians is a terrorist even toddlers according to your view.

      • Emil Bohme says:

        Have you not seen the horrible education of young children on how to kill and handle weapons! This is ourageous and total against humanitarion principals. A huge shame on those communities

  • Irmgard Becker says:

    I do find it rather ironic that the same ANC that sponsored violence against innocent civilians in South Africa through bombings and necklacing are now taking the moral high ground here. What exactly is the difference? In addition, they are probably guilty of genocide too by failing to provide their citizens with jobs, drinkable water, electricity and adequate health care. Wonder how many people are dying every day as a result of these failures? Just saying.

    • Emil Bohme says:

      They, SA Gov even let a genocidal criminal like Al-Bashir escape from capture and protected him all the way till he was safely out of sight.

  • Arthur Lilford says:

    Ahh! SA won the ICJ case well not really – but now please have the guts or b@lls to take Russia to ICJ for genocide in Ukraine – and the Civil war in Somalia oh yes and the Congo conflict with masses of lives lost African lives nog al ! – No you won’t because they have not paid your Litoool house salaries – ANC you are a disgrace of a “present regime” Government and likened to the oppressions of the “previous regime” which you are supposed to dislike but doing the exact same thing

  • Kevan O'Donnell says:

    No matter how you spin this, the ANC hoping for an Israeli condemnation, got a “box on but not too many below the belt.” Yet another ANC failure.

  • David Mitchley says:

    South Africa was sold to the gupta’s during the Zuma years, it has now been sold to any number of crime syndicates during the ramaphosa’s years. The treasonous anc had nothing left to sell except our foreign policy, we as South Africa citizens are now beholden to a string of terrorist funding regimes.
    I sincerely hope some journalist (one with some credibility left) uncovers the source of the ANC’s sudden financial windfall.

  • Peter Atller says:

    Slowly the senseless of the whole Palestinian question is moving along to a conclusion. Israel through the cover its Western backers always extends , has been shielded from criticism and corrective action, has overreached…like all that are fueled with arrogance eventually do. The parallels between Israel and Apartheid South Africa, are so stark, it is akin to watching a reboot. An isolated society, being breed and born in a construct of superiority, far removed from reality. The ICJ case has destroyed the well crafted international image Israel projects to the world, broken the seal of impunity it has enjoyed. Given courage to many, to openly express their views. History will show that South Africa’s case against it, was a seminal moment….hopefully, with all the additional pressure, Israelis would find alternative route and put an end to the senselessness of this whole mess.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    Very balanced article. 100 words from the Israel point of view, about 3,500 from the Hamas point of view.

  • Francois J Marais says:

    Victory at the ICJ ?
    What next? The ANC and Russia at this court?

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