Judges at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the UN’s highest judicial body, have ordered Israel to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza and let humanitarian aid into the besieged enclave. However, the court stopped short of ordering a ceasefire, as South Africa had asked them to do.
South Africa argued earlier this month that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. Israel, however, said it was just defending itself against Hamas after the October 7th attacks and has no intention of wiping out the Gazan community in whole or in part—which is what is needed to prove genocide.
But judges on Friday weren’t ruling on whether genocide is being committed. That will come later during the merits phase of any possible case. All they had to do Friday was prove that genocide was plausible, and that enough of an emergency exists in Gaza to have the authority to intervene.
Judge Joan Donoghue, the president of what’s also known as the World Court, quoted statements by UN officials, its secretary general and by human rights groups demonstrating the “continuing and urgent deterioration” of life in Gaza and the “extremely vulnerable and ongoing” position of its population.
“The catastrophic humanitarian disaster in Gaza is likely to get worse” and cause “irreparable prejudice” to any future case, she said. “The court finds a real emergency exists.”
In addition to preventing and ensuring that its troops don’t commit murder or commit bodily and mental harm to Palestinians, Israel was ordered to prevent and punish incitements to genocide and let in humanitarian aid.
It must also prevent the destruction of any future evidence.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his country will “continue to defend ourselves and our citizens while adhering to international law.”
South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor, meanwhile, told reporters outside the Peace Palace that she would have liked a ceasefire, but there’s no way she’s disappointed with a ruling that reduces harm and allows more aid into Gaza.
“In exercising the order, there would have to be a ceasefire,” she said.
Israel must report back to the court in one month’s time on its progress in carrying out judges’ orders, which are legally binding but lack enforcement.
The court also said it is “gravely concerned about the fate of the hostages and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.”
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