The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has mandated Israel to adopt measures to prevent genocide in Gaza but stop short of ordering a ceasefire as proposed by South Africa.
The court, on Friday, January 26th, refrained from making a definitive judgment on whether genocide has occurred in Gaza, as alleged in South Africa’s case.
However, a substantial majority of the court’s 17 judges insisted on the immediate enforcement of emergency measures.
In its interim decision, the ICJ emphasized Israel’s obligation to prevent any actions by its forces that could lead to genocide, curtail incitement to such acts, increase humanitarian aid to Gaza, and enhance protections for Palestinians, who are recognized as a protected group under the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Israel is required to report back to the court within a month on the steps taken to implement these measures.
However, the court did not call for a halt to the ongoing conflict in Gaza, where Israeli military operations have resulted in over 26,000 Palestinian deaths since October 7.
According to the Palestinian health ministry, two-thirds of those killed have been women and children.
United Nations officials have expressed concerns that more deaths could occur due to diseases and malnutrition, as at least one-quarter of Gaza’s population is at risk of starvation.
The war devastated extensive areas of Gaza and displaced nearly 85% of its 2.3 million residents from their residences.
Court President Joan E. Donoghue delivered the judgment, stating that there is enough evidence of dispute to proceed with the genocide case and that the ICJ has jurisdiction to rule on it.
Donoghue said, “The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life and human suffering.”
The president further added that the court was “of the view that Israel must take measures within its power to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide.”
Seventeen judges participated in the vote, with fifteen of them in favor of implementing all the emergency measures.
Julia Sebutinde, from Uganda, was the sole judge who voted against all the measures.
Israeli ad hoc judge Aharon Barak, although skeptical about the plausibility of genocide, backed two measures, expressing hope that they would “help to decrease tensions and discourage damaging rhetoric” and “alleviate the consequences of the armed conflict for the most vulnerable.”
Barak supported these two measures adopted by the court:
- “The State of Israel shall take all measures within its power to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide in relation to members of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip.”
- “The State of Israel shall take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”
The court also urged Hamas to release the remaining hostages held in captivity.
Baraka and South African Judge Dikgang Ernest Moseneke, representing their respective countries, are temporarily assigned to the ICJ for the case.
Thomas Macmanus, a law professor at Queen Mary University, told Al Jazeera that the court did not request a ceasefire, as it could potentially leave Israel defenseless. However, he emphasized that the court’s orders are aimed at halting the killings.
Law Professor at Notre Dame University’s Kroc Institute, Mary Ellen O’Connell, stated that the one-month timeframe provided to Israel to take action could carry significant weight, potentially shaping the court’s future perspective on the case.
O’Connell told the Associated Press, “That’s a time that the court could come back and say, ‘You have not met the orders. You have not complied. Now we find you are in the midst of committing genocide.”
Celebrating the decision, South Africa described it as a “decisive victory” for international law.
In a statement, South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation said, “South Africa sincerely hopes that Israel will not act to frustrate the application of this Order, as it has publicly threatened to do, but that it will instead act to comply with it fully, as it is bound to do.”
The United States reiterated its stance that Israel should take all feasible measures to reduce harm to civilians, enhance humanitarian assistance, and refrain from using “dehumanizing rhetoric.”
The State Department, in a statement, said, “We continue to believe that allegations of genocide are unfounded.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh Maliki welcomed the order, saying it counters Israel’s “culture of criminality and impunity.”
Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri regarded the ruling as pivotal in isolating Israel and revealing its actions in Gaza.
Conversely, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the ruling, asserting Israel’s “inherent right to defend itself” and denouncing the decision as a “blatant discrimination against the Jewish state.”
Although the ICJ’s rulings are conclusive and not subject to appeal, the court lacks the authority to enforce the measures.