ICJ case against Israel could finally empower the genocide convention

ICJ case against Israel could finally empower the genocide convention

Julian Borger writes:

Just a month after its 75th anniversary, the genocide convention could be entering a new age of greater relevance as the international court of justice convenes in The Hague to consider the Israel-Gaza war.

South Africa has brought a case to the ICJ accusing Israel of committing genocide in its military response to the 7 October Hamas attack that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians. The South African case includes references to the Israeli use of blanket bombing and the cutting of food, water and medicine supplies to Gaza.

“The acts are all attributable to Israel, which has failed to prevent genocide and is committing genocide in manifest violation of the genocide convention,” the case states.

Israel has signalled its determination to rebuff the charges, which Tel Aviv and Washington have rejected as baseless. It could take the court years to make a ruling, but it could also issue “provisional measures” requiring actions, like a ceasefire, to mitigate the risk of genocide.

The Israeli government could ignore the measures, but to do so would cause enormous reputational harm and loss of influence on the world stage for Israel and its principal backer, the US.

The intervention by South Africa, a state not involved in or directly harmed by the war in Gaza, is extremely rare, but it is not the first. The precedent was created by the Gambia, when it took Myanmar to the ICJ in 2019 accusing it of genocide against the Rohingya.

In 2021 the court imposed provisional measures on Myanmar, requiring the junta to direct its forces not to commit genocide, and to preserve all relevant evidence. The next year, the ICJ panel of judges decided by 15 votes to one (the Chinese judge was the lone dissenter) that the Gambia had the right to bring the case under an erga omnes obligation laid down by the genocide convention, meaning that it is the duty of an individual state towards the international community as a whole.

Savita Pawnday, the executive director at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, an NGO, said: “[the] Gambia taking Myanmar to the ICJ for its violations under the obligations of the genocide convention opened the gate for what is happening now with South Africa taking Israel to court. I think that is a fantastic step in addressing the climate of impunity that has operated for decades.” [Continue reading…]

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