In a significant development, South Africa has initiated legal proceedings against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing the country of violating its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The application was filed on December 29, 2023, and the ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, is tasked with adjudicating the matter.
The crux of the application alleges that Israel's "acts and omissions" in relation to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are "genocidal in character" with the specific intent to destroy them as part of the broader Palestinian national, racial, and ethnic group. This accusation is based on Article II of the Genocide Convention, which defines genocide as acts aimed at the destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.
The application asserts that Israel has failed to prevent genocide since October 7, 2023, and has neglected to prosecute direct and public incitement to genocide. South Africa contends that Israel is engaged in, is engaging in, and risks further engaging in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza.
Apart from seeking a determination of Israel's obligations under the Genocide Convention, the application includes a request for provisional measures to protect against further harm to the rights of the Palestinian people and ensure Israel's compliance with its obligations.
In response, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement rejecting the claims, asserting that South Africa's allegations lack both factual and legal basis. The statement accused South Africa of cooperating with a terrorist organization, referring to Hamas, and emphasized Israel's commitment to international law and its efforts to limit harm to non-involved civilians.
Israel urged the ICJ and the international community to reject South Africa's claims, describing them as a "despicable and contemptuous exploitation of the Court."
The ICJ's involvement adds to the ongoing international scrutiny of the conflict, as the International Criminal Court (ICC) is already investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both Hamas and Israel. The ICC's Prosecutor confirmed an ongoing investigation into the Palestine Situation, covering conduct since June 13, 2014, in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
As international tribunals intensify their focus on the conflict, the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire remains a grave concern, underscoring the human cost of the ongoing hostilities.