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Two days of public hearings in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel began at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Thursday, as pro-Palestine campaigners hope the World Court might halt Israel’s devastating military campaign in Gaza.
Since October 7, over 23,000 people have died in the Gaza Strip due to the siege, with approximately 10,000 of those deaths being children. South Africa filed the first lawsuit related to this issue at the ICJ, setting a precedent.
In its application submitted on December 29, Pretoria accuses Israel of committing genocide in contravention of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, which both South Africa and Israel are party to. Countries party to the treaty have the collective right to prevent and stop the crime.
What is the International Court of Justice?
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, serves as the highest legal authority within the United Nations, tasked with adjudicating disputes between member states. It operates independently of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which focuses on individual criminal cases.
Comprising 15 judges appointed through elections at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the Security Council (UNSC) for nine-year terms, the ICJ issues binding rulings that member states cannot appeal. However, the enforcement of these decisions relies on the UNSC.
What accusations has South Africa made against Israel?
South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza, violating the 1948 Genocide Convention to which both nations are parties. The charges include the large-scale killing of Palestinians, especially children; the destruction of homes; expulsion and displacement; blockade on essential resources; and measures hindering Palestinian births by destroying crucial health services for pregnant women and infants.
What are South Africa’s immediate demands?
South Africa urgently requests the ICJ to issue “provisional measures” preventing further Israeli crimes in Gaza. These emergency orders can be applied before the main case begins, aiming to protect the Palestinian people’s rights under the Genocide Convention, which South Africa argues are being violated with impunity.
How long will the trial last?
The initial proceedings for provisional measures are expected to conclude in a few weeks, with the court delivering a verdict on South Africa’s request shortly thereafter. However, the main case may extend over several years due to the ICJ’s meticulous process, involving detailed written submissions, oral arguments, and counter-arguments by legal counsels. Experts estimate the final sentence could take three to four years.
How does the ICJ decide cases?
Following the initial proceedings for provisional measures and later in the main case, ICJ judges will vote to determine a verdict. Although judges are expected to remain impartial, historical instances indicate that some may align their votes with their countries’ political stances. For example, during the March 2022 decision to provisionally order Russia out of Ukraine, judges from Russia and China voted against the resolution.