Israel accused of genocide: hearings begin at the International Court of Justice

Elizabeth Smith

The genocide trial against Israel begins on January 11. The lawsuit was filed by South Africa at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the main judicial body of the United Nations (UN). It claims that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s aggression in the Gaza Strip is violating the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The UN Genocide Convention

The term genocide comes from the union of the Greek word γένος, race or lineage, with the Latin caedere, to kill. It was created after the Second World War by the Polish jurist of Jewish origin Raphael Lemkin.

His campaign for the recognition of genocide as a crime in international law led to the adoption of the UN Genocide Convention in December 1948.

In this way, a new category of crimes against humanity was born, the most serious of all. The need to have a special court capable of dealing with the most serious international crimes led directly to the birth of the International Criminal Court, founded after many years in 2002 in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Court strengthened the rule against genocide by recognizing its character as a mandatory rule. Thus configuring it as a crime for all members of the international community. Even those who have not signed the Genocide Convention.

What is a genocide

The crime of genocide is defined by article two of the Convention and includes a series of acts, committed with the intention of destroying, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such. The acts are:

  • the killing of members of the group;

  • serious injury to the physical or mental integrity of members of the group;

  • the deliberate imposition on the group of living conditions intended to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part;

  • measures aimed at preventing births within the group;

  • the forced transfer of minors from one group to another.

There are therefore two elements that characterize the crime of genocide: the mental one and the physical or material one. Where mental refers to the intentionality of its realization and physical to the realization itself. From this basis South Africa’s accusation against Israel began, spelled out in an 84-page report.

What South Africa asked the International Criminal Court

Following the Hamas attack on 7 October 2023, Israel killed more than 23 thousand Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. 70% of whom were women and minors.

Furthermore, almost 85% of Gaza’s population, equal to approximately 1.9 million people, have been internally displaced due to the Israeli invasion and bombings that have destroyed thousands of buildings.

Thus also hitting refugee camps and areas designated as secured for the evacuation of civilians by the Tel Aviv authorities themselves.

According to South Africa’s complaint, reported by Reuters, the serious physical and mental damage caused by Israel to the Palestinian population “has the character of genocide. As it aims at the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group”.

“As a people who have tasted the bitter fruits of dispossession, discrimination, racism and state-sponsored violence, we are clear that we will stand on the right side of history.” Thus South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

How the process in the Hauge works

Genocide cases are notoriously difficult to prove, and Israel’s trial will likely last several years. South Africa has therefore asked the Court to intervene through provisional measures. And, to issue an urgent measure requiring the interruption of the bombings and all military operations by the Israeli army. Even before the end of the trial.

The Court has shown itself willing to follow the path requested by South Africa. The two days of hearings which open on 11 January 2024 will try to establish whether there are grounds for imposing the provisional measures.

Read also: The United States warns Israel: “Too many civilian deaths in Gaza”

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