ICJ issues interim ruling in South Africa’s case against Israel for violations of the Genocide Convention

Photo: Amnesty International – International Court of Justice – Click to enlarge

Following public hearings held on 11th and 12th January 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered its order relating to the ‘Request for the indication of provisional measures’ by South Africa in the case concerning its Application on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel).

The International Court of Justice’s order which is immediately binding on Israel, contained six provisional measures. This compares to South Africa’s request for the ICJ to support nine provisional measures.

The key omission from the ICJ’s order is the lack of a provisional measure requiring an immediate ceasefire to Israel’s war on Gaza. However most of the other provisional measures requested by South Africa are reflected in the ICJ’s order.

These include the following measures to be implemented by Israel:

  • to prevent the commission of all genocidal acts in Gaza;
  • to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide in Gaza;
  • to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance in the besieged enclave;
  • to report back to the court within a month about how it is upholding the court’s orders.

In addition, the ICJ found that “it has jurisdiction pursuant to Article IX of the Genocide Convention to entertain the case”.  Consequently it rejected Israel’s request for the case to be thrown out.

Significantly, the ICJ acknowledged that South Africa’s case does have merit and will therefore continue to investigate the allegation that Israel has committed acts of genocide in the Gaza Strip.

In keeping with this judgement, the ICJ’s summary document stated:

The Court observes that the military operation being conducted by Israel following the attack of 7 October 2023 has resulted in a large number of deaths and injuries, as well as the massive destruction of homes, the forcible displacement of the vast majority of the population, and extensive damage to civilian infrastructure. While figures relating to the Gaza Strip cannot be independently verified, recent information indicates that 25,700 Palestinians have been killed, over 63,000 injuries have been reported, over 360,000 housing units have been destroyed or partially damaged and approximately 1.7 million persons have been internally displaced. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been deprived access to water, food, fuel, electricity and other essentials of life, as well as to medical care and medical supplies.1

The ICJ also referred to the statement made by the Commissioner-General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) that the crisis in Gaza is “compounded by dehumanizing language”. In this respect, the court noted recent dehumanizing statements aimed at Palestinians in general by:

  • Yoav Gallant, Defence Minister of Israel, on 9th and 10th October 2023;
  • Isaac Herzog, President of Israel, on 12th October 2023;
  • Israel Katz, then Minister of Energy and Infrastructure of Israel, on 13th October 2023.

The ICJ also took note of the press release, dated 16th November 2023, which was endorsed by 37 Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and members of Working Groups, all part of Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council.  This press release expressed alarm over “discernibly genocidal and dehumanising rhetoric coming from senior Israeli government officials.”2

Also noted by the ICJ were concerns expressed on 27th October 2023 by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about “the sharp increase in racist hate speech and dehumanization directed at Palestinians since 7th October.”

Reactions to the ICJ’s interim ruling

In response to the ICJ’s interim ruling, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, hailed the ruling as a “decisive victory” for international law and a significant milestone in the struggle to achieve justice for the Palestinian people.

Outside the ICJ’s headquarters in The Hague, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations, Naledi Pandor, told reporters that Israel needed to immediately stop its military operations in Gaza if it was to adhere to the court’s orders.

“How do you provide aid and water without a ceasefire,” Pandor asked. “If you read the order, by implication, a ceasefire must happen.”3

Despite Israel’s destruction of Palestinian life and its obstruction to urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance being trucked into Gaza, a spokesperson for Foreign Minister Penny Wong issued the following feeble statement:

Australia respects the independence of the International Court of Justice and the critical role it plays in upholding international law and the rules based order.

Australia’s position has been clear and consistent throughout this crisis. We have consistently urged all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, advocated for humanitarian access, and called for civilians to be protected and hostages released.4

In contrast, the leader of the Australian Greens, Adam Bandt, said the ICJ’s ruling requires the Australian government, as well as other international governments, to act:

The implications of the ICJ’s landmark ruling are clear: the invasion of Gaza must stop, the occupation of Palestine must end and the serious risk of genocide must be prevented,” he said.

Labor must stop backing the invasion and pressure the Israeli government to end the invasion and end the occupation.5

The Greens also urged the Albanese government to place sanctions on Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with all cabinet members, including the imposition of financial sanctions and travel bans.

Numerous international human rights groups and Australian-based humanitarian organisations also welcomed the ICJ’s ruling.6


1. International Court of Justice, Summary of Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel): Request for the indication of provisional measures’, 26th January 2024.
2. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Gaza: UN experts call on international community to prevent genocide against the Palestinian people’, Press Release, Special Procedures, 19th November 2023.
3. Quoted in Al Jazeera, ‘World reacts to ICJ interim ruling in Gaza genocide case against Israel’, News, Israel war on Gaza, 26th January 2024.
4. Quoted in Jordyn Beazley et al., ‘Australia urged to reconsider support for Israel after ICJ ruling’, The Guardian, 27th January 2024.
5. Ibid.
6. Examples include Amnesty International, ‘Israel must comply with key ICJ ruling ordering it do all in its power to prevent genocide against Palestinians in Gaza’, 26th January 2024 and Oxfam Australia, ‘Reaction to ICJ court statement on South Africa’s case against Israel’, 27th January 2024.

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