South Africa accuses Israel of genocide in complaint to World Court

A case at the UN’s top court urges actions to prevent ‘severe and irreparable harm’ against Palestinians

Alex Woodward
Friday 29 December 2023 21:12
UN Security Council approves aid for Gaza but stops short of call for ceasefire

South Africa has urged the United Nations International Court of Justice to declare Israel in breach of its obligations to the 1948 Genocide Convention as the death toll in Gaza climbs to more than 20,000.

The complaint at the World Court at The Hague on Friday alleges “acts and omissions by Israel” in Gaza “are genocidal in character” and have been committed with “the requisite specific intent” to “destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and [ethnic] group”.

Following Israel’s devastating retaliatory military campaign in the beleaguered strip after Hamas attacks in Israel on 7 October, Israel has “failed to prevent genocide and has failed to prosecute the direct and public incitement to genocide,” according to the filing.

“Israel has engaged in, is engaging in and risks further engaging in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza,” South Africa has asserted.

The filing asks the court to implement provisional or short-term measures to halt Israel’s campaign in an urgent effort “to protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people”.

Israel has condemned the suit.

“Israel has made it clear that the residents of the Gaza Strip are not the enemy, and is making every effort to limit harm to the non-involved and to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip,” according to a statement from Israel’s foreign ministry.

A hearing has not yet been scheduled but is expected within the coming days or weeks.

South Africa has long criticised Israel’s campaign in Gaza and has repeatedly compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and occupied territories to that of its own violent apartheid-era past.

Last month, South Africa pushed for the International Criminal Court at The Hague to investigate Israel’s actions in Gaza.

That court prosecutes nations for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, while the International Court of Justice settles disputes between nations.

South African officials said in a statement that the country is “gravely concerned with the plight of civilians caught in the present Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip due to the indiscriminate use of force and forcible removal of inhabitants.”

Officials said “There are ongoing reports of international crimes, such as crimes against humanity and war crimes, being committed” as well as other acts that meet the threshold of genocide under the UN’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and which “may still be committed in the context of the ongoing massacres in Gaza.”

Last week, the United Nations Security Council narrowly approved a resolution pressing for the urgently needed passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza after more than two months of attacks.

Following several days of negotiations led by the United States, the council stopped short of a resolution calling for an immediate cessation of violence, instead approving a watered-down measure to avoid a veto from the US, which has blocked previous UN attempts to stem the violence.

The long-delayed vote in the 15-member council on 22 December was 13-0. The US and Russia ultimately abstained from voting.

A final version did not include demands for a ceasefire or any immediate pause in the fighting, making it unlikely that the measure to support the flow of aid into Gaza – which is largely in Israel’s control – will slow the violence that has killed thousands of Palestinians, including more than 8,000 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

On Thursday, Israeli forces reportedly shot at a UN convoy of armoured vehicles in central Gaza after it was returning from aid deliveries in the north.

“Israeli soldiers fired at an aid convoy as it returned from northern Gaza along a route designated by the Israeli Army,” according to Thomas White, the Gaza director for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. No injuries were reported.

“Aid workers should never be a target,” Mr White said.

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