Top UN court cautions Israel against ‘genocidal acts’, stops short of calling for ceasefire

NEW DELHI: The UN top court on Friday told Israel to take every measure to prevent “genocidal acts” in Gaza and facilitate “urgently needed” humanitarian aid into the besieged territory in its interim ruling.
The world court was hearing a case brought by South Africa, which accused Israel of breaching the UN Genocide Convention amid the ongoing war in the region.

The big picture:

The International Court of Justice has asked Israel to take every measure to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinians in the region. However, it stopped short of ordering a “ceasefire”. However, at this stage of the conflict, the ICJ is not considering whether Israel is actually committing genocide in Gaza since that process will take several years. But the ruling was still seen as a victory by South Africa, which accused Israel of committing genocidal acts.
Key observations by ICJ

  • At the outset, the world court told Israel to ensure that its forces do not commit genocide in war-torn Gaza
  • It urged the country to facilitate much-needed humanitarian assistance in the region
  • It asked Israel to report back to it on what steps it was taking in a month’s time
  • The ICJ also expressed “grave concern” over the fate of the hostages in Gaza
  • Further, it called on Hamas and other armed groups to immediately release them without conditions.

Genocide fears: The court did not say that Israel has committed genocide, but recongnised the right of Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from such acts. “The state of Israel shall…take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of the Genocide convention,” the court said.

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South African president Cyril Ramaphosa listens in Johannesburg as the top UN court criticizes Israel’s war against Hamas. (AP Photo)
Nazi-era treaty: The 1948 Genocide Convention was enacted in the wake of the mass murder of Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. It defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
Acts of genocide named in the convention include: killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the destruction of the group in whole or in part.
What the ruling means for both sides: The ruling by the world court was welcomed by Palestinians as well as the South African government. For Israel and its closest allies, including US, it was an embarrassment. In fact, Israel had asked the court to reject the case outright, saying it respects international law and has a right to defend itself.
How they reacted: After the ruling, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the charge of genocide leveled against Israel at the World Court was “outrageous” and said it would do whatever is necessary to defend itself. Meanwhile, Hamas hailed the ruling as “important”, saying it “contributes to isolating Israel”. South Africa said the ruling marks a “decisive victory for the international rule of law and a significant milestone in the search for justice for the Palestinian people.”
What’s next: Though provisional measures by the world court are legally binding, but it is not clear if Israel will comply with them. Netanyahu’s comments indicate that Israel will keep up its ground offensive and target Hamas militants in Gaza. Besides, with the top UN court not calling for a ceasefire yet, there won’t be an end to the conflict in the region in the near future.
Over 110 days of war: The ruling comes nearly four months after the October 7 Hamas attack triggered a fullscale war in the region. The conflict has resulted in the death of around 1,140 people in Israel, most of them civilians. Meanwhile, at least 26,083 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip in Israeli bombardments and ground offensive.
(With inputs from agencies)
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