ICJ orders Israel to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza
Jan. 27, 2024

Why in news?

  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered that Israel must take all measures within its power to prevent all acts within the scope of the Genocide Convention.
    • The court was ruling on the nine provisional measures requested by South Africa in its genocide claim against Israel.
  • The court did not agree to South Africa’s request for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
  • However, it directed Israel to allow the entry of basic services and humanitarian assistance into the Palestinian enclave.

What’s in today’s article?

  • International Court of Justice (ICJ)
  • Genocide Convention
  • News Summary

International Court of Justice (ICJ)?

  • About
    • The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN).
    • It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946.
    • The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands).
      • It is the only one of the six principal organs of the UN that is not located in New York City.
    • English and French are the ICJ’s official languages.
  • Role
    • The role of ICJ is:
      • to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and
      • to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorizedUnited Nations organs and specialized agencies.
  • Judges
    • The ICJ has 15 judges who are elected to nine-year terms by the UN General Assembly and Security Council, which vote simultaneously but separately.
    • To be elected, a candidate must receive a majority of the votes in both bodies, a requirement that sometimes necessitates multiple rounds of voting.
      • A third of the court is elected every three years and elections are held at the UNHQ in New York during the annual UNGA meeting.
      • The judges elected at the triennial election commence their term of office on February 6 of the following year.
    • The president and vice-president of the court are elected for three-year terms by secret ballot. Judges are eligible for re-election.
  • Members and Jurisdiction
    • All members of the UN are automatically parties to the ICJ statute. However, this does not automatically give the ICJ jurisdiction over disputes involving them.
      • The ICJ gets jurisdiction only if both parties consent to it.
    • The judgment of the ICJ is final and technically binding on the parties to a case.
      • There is no provision of appeal. It can at the most, be subject to interpretation or, upon the discovery of a new fact, revision.
    • The ICJ has no way to ensure compliance of its orders, and its authority is derived from the willingness of countries to abide by them.

Genocide Convention

  • About
    • The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is an international human rights treaty that codified the crime of genocide for the first time.
    • This was the first human rights treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1948, and has been in effect since January 12, 1951.
  • Genocide acts as per this convention
    • The Convention defines genocide as five acts:
      • killing members of a group;
      • causing serious bodily or mental harm;
      • inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction;
      • imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group; and
      • forcibly transferring children of the group to another group — committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.
  • Claim of genocide
    • There are two elements: the physical acts (mentioned above); and mental act (specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part a specific group).
    • Committing these physical acts, however widespread, is not enough to make a claim of genocide.
    • The specific intent to destroy is what distinguishes genocide from war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
    • Also, the commission of war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity do not provide an avenue for States to approach the ICJ because the court does not have automatic jurisdiction over those crimes.

Background of the current verdict by ICJ

  • Earlier, South Africa brought a case to the ICJ accusing Israel of committing genocide in its military response to the 7 October Hamas attack.
  • The South African case included references to the Israeli use of blanket bombing and the cutting of food, water and medicine supplies to Gaza.
    • The ICJ was also asked to consider whether Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.
  • The present order came in response to this case.

News Summary: ICJ orders Israel to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza

  • ICJ said Israel must prevent genocidal acts in Gaza and facilitate urgently needed humanitarian aid into the besieged territory.
  • The court urged Israel to refrain from any possible genocidal acts as it presses its military operation in the Gaza Strip, but stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.
  • At this stage, the ICJ has not considered whether Israel is actually committing genocide in Gaza — that process will take several years.

Challenges ahead

  • The question now is whether the court’s rulings will be obeyed.
  • Although its rulings are legally binding, it has no mechanism to enforce them and they are sometimes completely ignored.
    • E.g., it has ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine.

Impact of the ruling on Israel

  • PM Benjamin Netanyahu has already hinted Israel would not abide by any ruling saying no one will stop us, not even a verdict in The Hague.
  • But experts believe that aside from the significant symbolic impact of the ruling, there could be tangible consequences on the ground.
    • It makes it much harder for other states to continue to support Israel in the face of a neutral third party finding there is a risk of genocide.