South Africa seeks justice for Palestinians at the world’s highest court

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South Africa has filed a referral to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza. The move comes amid the ongoing Israeli offensive in the besieged enclave, which has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and injured over 10,000 since November 7.

A case of genocide?

South Africa’s submission to the ICJ alleges that “acts and omissions by Israel … are genocidal in character” as they are committed with the intent “to destroy Palestinians in Gaza” as a part of the broader Palestinian national group. The submission cites the 1948 Genocide Convention, which defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

South Africa argues that Israel’s actions in Gaza amount to genocide because they involve:

South Africa

  • Killing members of the group
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

South Africa also accuses Israel of violating other international laws and conventions, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in times of war, and the Rome Statute, which establishes the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) over crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.

A call for action

South Africa’s referral to the ICJ is not a lawsuit, but a request for an advisory opinion from the court on the legal issues raised by the case. The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and its opinions are not binding, but they carry moral and legal weight. South Africa hopes that the ICJ’s opinion will pave the way for the ICC to launch a formal investigation and prosecution of Israel for its alleged crimes in Gaza.

South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, announced the referral during a virtual meeting of leaders of developing countries, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, on Tuesday. Ramaphosa said he had spoken to Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza and the need for a ceasefire and a political solution to the conflict.

Ramaphosa also condemned Hamas for its attack on Israeli civilians that sparked the conflict and said both sides were guilty of violating international law. “The collective punishment of Palestinian civilians through the unlawful use of force by Israel is a war crime,” Ramaphosa said. “The deliberate denial of medicine, fuel, food and water to the residents of Gaza is tantamount to genocide. In its attacks on civilians and by taking hostages, Hamas has also violated international law and must be held accountable for these actions”.

A history of solidarity

South Africa’s referral to the ICJ is not the first time the country has expressed its solidarity with the Palestinian cause. South Africa was one of the first countries to recognize the State of Palestine in 1994, following its own transition from apartheid to democracy. South Africa has also been a vocal critic of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and its settlement expansion, which it considers illegal under international law.

South Africa has also supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for economic and political pressure on Israel to end its violations of Palestinian rights. In 2019, South Africa downgraded its diplomatic relations with Israel and recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv. South Africa has also hosted several visits by Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

South Africa’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in its own history of struggle against racial oppression and injustice. Many South Africans see parallels between their own experience under apartheid and the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. As Nelson Mandela, the late anti-apartheid icon and former president of South Africa, once said: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.

Category: World

Meta Description: South Africa has filed a referral to the ICJ for an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza, citing the Genocide Convention and other international laws.

Slug: south-africa-icj-israel-gaza-genocide

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