S.Africa accuses Israel of breaching Genocide Convention

AFP , Thursday 11 Jan 2024

South Africa on Thursday accused Israel of breaching the UN Genocide Convention, saying that even the October 7 Hamas operation could not justify such alleged actions.

Pro-Palestinian supporters picket outside the High Court in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. AP


Pretoria has lodged an urgent appeal to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to force Israel to "immediately suspend" its military operations in Gaza.

"No armed attack on a state territory no matter how serious... can provide justification for or defend breaches of the convention," said Pretoria's Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.

"Israel's response to the October 7 attack has crossed this line and given rise to the breaches of the convention," he added, setting out South Africa's case at the ICJ.

South Africa argues Israel is breaking its commitments under the UN Genocide Convention, a treaty signed in 1948 in the wake of the Holocaust.

Top lawyer for South Africa Adila Hassim said Israel's bombing campaign aimed at the "destruction of Palestinian life" and had pushed Palestinians "to the brink of famine".

"Genocides are never declared in advance, but this court has the benefit of the past 13 weeks of evidence that shows incontrovertibly a pattern of conduct and related intention that justifies a plausible claim of genocidal acts," she said.

As a fellow signatory to the treaty, South Africa can take Israel to the ICJ, which rules on disputes between countries and is often described as the "World Court".

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has long been a firm supporter of the Palestinian cause, often linking it to its struggle against the white-minority government, which had cooperative relations with Israel.

South Africa has acknowledged the "particular weight of responsibility" of accusing Israel of genocide.

 'Atrocious and preposterous'

Israel will present its arguments Friday but President Isaac Herzog has already hinted at his country's likely defence.

"There's nothing more atrocious and preposterous than this claim," said Herzog.

The United States is backing its ally Israel, with the State Department describing the charges as "unfounded".

"In fact, it is those who are violently attacking Israel who continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews," said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

As it is an urgent procedure, the ICJ could rule in a matter of weeks.

Its rulings are final and cannot be appealed. However, countries do not always follow the court's verdicts -- the ICJ has ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine, for example.

But a court ruling against Israel would certainly increase political pressure on the country, with many speculating it could serve as a pretext for sanctions.

Cecily Rose, assistant professor of public international law at Leiden University, said the court did not have to rule on the fundamentals of the case at this stage -- that issue will likely take years.

"Instead, the court would only be evaluating whether there is a risk of irreparable prejudice to rights held under the Genocide Convention, in particular the right of the Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts that threaten their existence as a group," Rose told AFP.


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