Foreign Relations & International Law

South Africa Institutes ICJ Proceedings Against Israel for Genocide Convention Violations

Hyemin Han
Wednesday, January 3, 2024, 2:08 PM
The application asks the International Court of Justice to call on Israel to stop its military campaign in Gaza while the matter is pending before the court.

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On Dec. 29, 2023, the Republic of South Africa initiated proceedings in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the State of Israel alleging breaches of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the “Genocide Convention”), which entered into force in 1951. The application, brought under Article IX of the Genocide Convention, states that Israel “intend[s] to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group, that being the part of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip.” South Africa alleges that the state of Israel has failed to prevent genocide, failed to prosecute public incitement to genocide, and has directly engaged in genocidal acts in Gaza. 

The application requests expedited proceedings in front of the ICJ as well as indication of provisional measures under Article 74(4) of the ICJ’s Rules of Court. The latter request would include the ICJ’s president calling on Israel to halt all actions in Gaza that constitute or give rise to violations of the Genocide Convention while the matter is pending in front of the ICJ. 

In its application, South Africa alleges that Israel has killed a large number of Palestinians; inflicted “conditions of life intended to bring about [Palestinians’] destruction as a group”; caused mass displacement and destruction of homes; deprived Palestinians of access to adequate food, water, shelter, medical care, and sanitation; and imposed measures that obstruct Palestinians from being able to give birth. The application places these allegations within the context of Israel’s telecommunications blackouts, restriction of fact-finding bodies, and killing of journalists in Gaza since the conflict began. 

The application also collates widespread international agreement about Israel’s conduct in Gaza, including numerous references to Secretary General António Guterres’s Dec. 6 Article 99 letter to the United Nations Security Council calling for a humanitarian ceasefire.

South Africa’s application is similar to one brought by The Gambia against Myanmar for Myanmar’s alleged genocide against its Rohingya population. The Gambia brought that application in 2019 on behalf of 57 other states, asserting its right to initiate proceedings under Article IX of Genocide Convention given the international interest in maintaining the Convention and its erga omnes partes rights under the convention. The ICJ asserted jurisdiction to hear that case in 2022, and it remains ongoing.

The ICJ is set to hear oral arguments from South Africa and Israel on this matter on Jan. 11 and 12, respectively. 

You can read South Africa’s application to the ICJ here or below:

Hyemin Han is an associate editor of Lawfare and is based in Washington, D.C. Previously, she worked in eviction defense and has interned on Capitol Hill and with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. She holds a BA in government from Dartmouth College, where she was editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth independent daily.

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