Cape Town - South Africa’s decision to approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over Israel’s unceasing military and humanitarian violations on the Gaza Strip, has made international headlines, as the country is the first to launch such an application amid global condemnation and widespread calls for a ceasefire.
On Friday, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) revealed the country had approached the ICJ under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) over Israel’s attacks on Gaza.
Both South Africa and Israel are State parties to the Genocide Convention and are thus obligated to prevent the occurrence of genocide under the treaty.
In retaliation to attacks by Hamas that claimed 1200 lives, Israel launched an assault on Gaza resulting in the deaths of at least 22 000 people.
Nearly 1.9 million people, representing over 85% of Gaza’s population have been displaced since.
DIRCO spokesperson Clayson Monyela said the hearing for the matter is set to take place on January 11-12.
At a special meeting held on December 8, the Cabinet directed that the ICJ be approached to obtain an order directing Israel to refrain from any acts that may constitute genocide or related crimes under the Convention and an application was filed before the Court on December 29.
READ | The Republic of South Africa institutes proceedings against the State of Israel and requests the Court to indicate provisional measures. pic.twitter.com/du9DaHUF0H— DIRCO South Africa (@DIRCO_ZA) December 29, 2023
SA’s legal team for the case comprised some of the top legal experts in the country, namely John Dugard SC, Max du Plessis SC, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC, Adila Hassim SC.
“The acts and omissions by Israel complained of by South Africa are genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group, that being the part of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip.
“The acts in question include killing Palestinians in Gaza, causing them serious bodily and mental harm, and inflicting on them conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction.
“The acts are all attributable to Israel, which has failed to prevent genocide and is committing genocide in manifest violation of the Genocide Convention, and which has also violated and is continuing to violate its other fundamental obligations under the Genocide Convention, including by failing to prevent or punish the direct and public incitement to genocide by senior Israeli officials and others,” read the application.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting on Sunday the war on Hamas was a moral one.
“No, South Africa, it is not we who have come to perpetrate genocide, it is Hamas,” he said. “It would murder all of us if it could. In contrast, the IDF is acting as morally as possible.”
“We will continue our defensive war, the justice and morality of which is without peer.”
SA Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Coalition welcomed DIRCO’s move. SA BDS Coalition member Professor Usuf Chikte said the ICJ needs to act swiftly to ensure that justice is not delayed and denied to Palestinians.
“It is a bold statement which defies the dominance of the USA, UK and European Union in its unqualified support for Israel in conducting its genocide against Palestinians with impunity. It exposes the moral bankruptcy of the Western powers in failing to enforce a ceasefire, the provision of adequate humanitarian aid and protection of an unarmed, defenceless Palestinian population under occupation by Israel in its unjust war waged by a cruel nuclear army.”
On November 17, 2023, the Embassy of South Africa in the Hague acting on behalf of South Africa, jointly with Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros and Djibouti referred the situation in Palestine to the ICC.
The SA Jewish Board of Deputies national chair professor Karen Milner said: “Rather than play a positive role, South Africa has chosen to expend its time and energy in filing a case against Israel at the ICJ… South Africa continues to humiliate itself in the international arena. It has no shame in using international organisations like the International ICC and the ICJ when it suits their political purpose but shuns them when it doesn’t.”