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The International Court of Justice imposes precautionary measures on the State of Israel

26 January, 2024 | Ricardo Changala

On January 26, the ICJ, headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, issued its first pronouncement related to the lawsuit filed by the State of South Africa (backed by approximately 50 other countries) against Israel in late December. The lawsuit alleges that in the Gaza Strip, where more than 26,000 people have already perished, nearly half of them children, a genocide has been unfolding.

ICJ President Joan E. Donoghue, an USA national, read the resolution in which she initially communicated that the ICJ has jurisdiction in the case a claim rejected by the State of Israel.

The ICJ asserts that South Africa can sue Israel for the alleged violation of the Genocide Convention. Consequently, the ICJ will continue to consider the case according to its procedural rules, as it has done in numerous previous instances. In this initial pronouncement, it is confirmed that some of the accusations against Israel fall within the scope of the Genocide Convention, affording Palestinians the right to protection as a group.

In its operative part, the ICJ orders the State of Israel to take “all possible measures” to protect the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip and ensure “urgently” that they receive necessary assistance. This forms part of a series of precautionary measures to be taken while the ICJ continues to analyze the substance of the lawsuit.

Specifically, in paragraph 78 of the resolution, the ICJ states that Israel must, in accordance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention, take all measures at its disposal to prevent the commission of acts covered by Article II of this Convention. These acts include killing group members, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life to bring about total or partial physical destruction, and imposing measures to prevent births within the group.

The ICJ also stipulates that Israel must “immediately ensure that its military forces do not commit any of the acts described above.”

In paragraphs 79 to 81 of its resolution, the ICJ urges Israel to take measures to prevent and punish direct and public incitement to commit genocide, provide necessary basic services and urgent humanitarian assistance to address adverse living conditions for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence related to allegations of acts covered by Article II and Article III of the Genocide Convention against members of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip.

As determined by the ICJ, the State of Israel must inform the court within one month about the actions implemented to comply with this resolution—a requirement that is obligatory.

Upon learning of the resolution, various reactions ensued, ranging from Israel’s rejection, deeming the decision unfounded, false, and outrageous, to satisfaction expressed by the Palestinian National Authority. The demanding State, through a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, conveyed that the resolution is a decisive victory for international law and a significant milestone in the quest for justice for the Palestinian people.

However, Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations, emphasized that without a ceasefire, none of the measures demanded by the ICJ could be implemented. Therefore, a cessation of hostilities seems to be a necessary requirement to effectively comply with the provisions of the international tribunal.

On the eve of the resolution, senior officials of the United Nations reiterated the call to take urgent measures for the protection of civilians in Gaza, particularly safeguarding against attacks on hospitals, clinics, medical personnel, and UN facilities—explicitly enshrined in international law.

It is anticipated that, with the precautionary measures determined by the ICJ, the situation will significantly improve for the population of the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people.