Can The ICJ Stop An Ongoing Genocide?

The evidence and extent of genocidal intent on the part of Israel is appallingly palpable and its gravity is a matter of concern for the ICJ

Can The ICJ Stop An Ongoing Genocide?

After the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent genocide, Israel has not only committed itself to the assault, relentlessly, against unarmed civilians but intensified its offensive in the ‘safe areas’ of Al-Musawi and Rafah, which were sheltering a displaced population. Concerned about the deteriorating conditions, in particular the spread of famine and starvation, the ICJ ordered some additional provisional measures for Israel on 28 March 2024. These include the directive to ensure immediate, unhindered humanitarian aid, in cooperation with UN, increasing the capacity and number of land crossing points, to ensure its military does not commit acts which constitute a violation of any of the rights of the Palestinians in Gaza as a protected group, and submit a compliance report within one month of the order. 

The evidence and extent of genocidal intent on the part of Israel is appallingly palpable and its gravity is a matter of concern for the ICJ, when the Court noted that Israel has in addition to causing death by starvation of children also “continued to kill approximately 4,548 Palestinian men, women and children since its first order on 26th January 2024, and to wound a further 7, 556,” clearly violating its obligation to prevent genocide. It further observed that 31% of children under two years of age suffered from acute malnutrition, “a staggering escalation from 15.6 per cent in January,” due to intentional hindrance in provision of humanitarian aid. This evidence makes Israel clearly guilty of committing genocide.

South Africa had successfully moved the ICJ under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948 in December 2023 and helped the Court consider plausible evidence about the commission of the crime, but the failure of the world community, particularly the US and its allies, to stop the war by way of permanent ceasefire is significantly disturbing. As a consequence, the situation actually worsened and plans of a full-scale offensive were rolled out by Israel. In this process, humanitarian aid has been blocked with impunity resulted in heavy civilian casualties and human misery.

Due to “widespread deprivation of food and other basic amenities”, and famine “setting in,” ICJ has ordered more land crossing points – implying more provisions from the neighbouring Egypt and other countries that Israel has either denied or blocked. Dropping aid by air is substantially not enough for a starving population of 2.2 million people in Gaza facing a high level of acute food insecurity – the highest share of people facing that level of food insecurity ever recorded worldwide as reported by the FAO. To make matters worse, targeting food convoys of UNRWA, a life line for Palestinians, and bombing United World Kitchen with the intention to obstruct aid during this famine, will threaten the lives of people beyond repair.

Israel has reached the threshold for genocide, against “Palestinians as a group” under the Genocide Convention, claimed by the UN expert Francesca Albanese in her revealing report, “Anatomy of Genocide”. After five months of military operations, over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, she says, including more than 13,000 children, 71,000 injured, many with “life-changing mutilations.” 70% of residential areas have been destroyed. 80% of the whole population has been forcibly displaced. “Many could not bury and mourn their relatives, forced instead to leave their bodies decomposing in homes, in the street or under the rubble.” 

Countering the narrative around casualties, Israel repeatedly claims it has a right to defend itself against the armed group Hamas for its 7 October 2023 attack that killed 1,200 Israelis. 

But that doesn’t justify collective punishment of the Palestinian people, their death and destruction in search of Hamas. Health facilities, residential buildings, refugee camps, even aid convoys are targeted for allegedly sheltering Hamas. It is outrageous to expand war games distorting the laws of war and principles of discrimination between combatants and non-combatants, as well as considerations of proportionality. Israel is guilty of blatant defiance of international law, international humanitarian law, Genocide Convention and the orders of the ICJ with no accountability. 

South Africa has been joined by Nicaragua recently at the ICJ. Nicaragua has brought a case against Germany, the second biggest supplier of arms to Israel, accusing it of aiding and abetting genocide. This move will exert pressure on all countries complicit in providing arms to the aggressor in serious breach of international law. 

The ICJ rulings are binding on Israel but there is no method of enforcement. To overcome this weakness, the role of big powers particularly the US, one of the five permanent members of the 15-member Security Council, and a strategic ally of Israel, can be instrumental to stop the atrocities and compel Israel to abide by the international law. It has played a disappointing role so far, vetoing three UNSC resolutions that were calling for a ceasefire and abstaining from one. There is growing pressure by the ruling Democrats coupled with the anger of segments of the public against Biden for his failure to stop military assistance in wake of Israel’s aggression. Despite the ICJ ruling, the US blocked funding to UNRWA and let the Palestinians die in acute misery. This complicity in genocide must end. 

Israel is adamant to expand its genocidal policy to Rafah, where a million people take refuge, despite world pressure. Any attempt for truce will be a temporary effort before another round of slaughter and displacement will take place. Weapons sales to the aggressor must be blocked by the international community if the efforts for a permanent ceasefire fail.

The writer has an LLM in International Economic Law