The article highlights the crucial significance of international law as a cornerstone in the global campaign against genocide.

The article highlights the crucial significance of international law as a cornerstone in the global campaign against genocide.

Crucial Cross Roads: International Law in the Battle against Genocidal Acts

As per General Assembly Resolution 96 (I) genocide is the denial of the right of existence of an entire human group as homicide is the denial of the right to live of an individual human being. Such denial of existence shocks the very conscience of mankind, resulting in great loss to humanity in the form of cultural and other contributions represented by these human groups and is contrary to moral law, and the aim and the spirit of the United Nations.

It was in the winter of 1942 that Raphaël Lemkin coined the term 'genocide' and inspired a movement in the United Nations to make it a crime, the phrase gained attention after a recent charge made by South Africa against Israel.

Generally speaking, unless it is carried out by the wholesale death of all the citizens of a nation, genocide does not always imply the instant destruction of a nation. Instead, it represents a well-thought-out scheme of various acts meant to destroy the very fundamental bases of national groups' existence.

The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. (Irvin-Erickson, 2017)

On December 29, of last year, South Africa filed a complaint against Israel under Article IX (of the Genocide Convention, adopted in 1948) which permits any state party to the Convention to bring a case against another in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) even if it is not directly involved in the conflict, provided that there is a prima facie risk of irreparable harm and urgency caused by the state party to any particular group or community.

As per South Africa, they have come to the court out of their legal and moral obligation to do something to prevent the unfolding genocide; our people have emerged from the horrific battle against apartheid so we know what abandonment by the international community feels like and looks like.

The main demand from Pretoria was that Israel should immediately cease its military operations in Gaza, which were beginning to resemble a genocide in progress. Two essential requirements must be accomplished to demonstrate that there is a genocide in progress. The first thing is the intention, followed by the execution of the intention. (Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip).

Declarations from Israel's Ruling Elite

As per International law experts the hardest part in proving genocide is establishing intent. According to South Africa, Israel’s special genocidal intent is rooted in its belief that the “enemy” is not just the military wing of Hamas, or indeed Hamas generally, but is embedded in the fabric of Palestinian life in Gaza. It alleged that several statements made by those in leadership positions are not open to neutral interpretations or after-the-fact rationalizations and re-interpretations by Israel.

These are orders to destroy and to maim what cannot be destroyed. The state's position is communicated through these communications. If the statements were not intended, they would not have been made. South Africa referred to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who in his address to the Israeli forces on 28 October 2023 — preparing for the invasion of Gaza — urged the soldiers to “remember what Amalek has done to you”.

As a group, the Amalekites were identified as a recurrent enemy of the Israelites. Their role appears in multiple bloody battles against the Israelites. Bibi referred to the Biblical command by God to Saul for the retaliatory destruction of an entire group of Amalekites i.e.

“Put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys”.

The mention of Amalek is just a single reference within a broader spectrum. Ezra Yachin — a veteran of the Deir Yassin massacre against the Palestinians in 1948, referring to Palestinians in Gaza urged the soldiers to obliterate all traces of their memories; and to erase them with their families, mothers, and children. These animals can no longer live.

Yet in another instance, the deputy speaker of Knesset exhorted for the erasure of the Gaza Strip from the face of the earth. Israeli defence minister while ordering a ‘complete siege’ on Gaza exclaimed that “We are fighting against human animals and we act accordingly”.

Though the true purpose was apparent from the statements themselves, it came to its twilight when Israeli soldiers repeated the so-called words of their commander-in-chief on the battlefield, “wipe off the seeds of Amalec” “There is no uninvolved” and many more. These short videos from the army camps show the ways the statements were interpreted, basically to turn the strip into a slaughterhouse. It manifests that the elderly are the enemy, children are the enemy, and pregnant ladies are the enemy. (‘Erase Gaza’: War Unleashes Incendiary Rhetoric in Israel - The New York Times)

Wordless Conversations: Understanding the Language of Conduct

South Africa claims that the genocidal intent against the Palestinians living in Gaza is evident from how Israel’s military attack is being conducted. It is systematic in its character and form: the mass displacement of the population of Gaza, herded into areas where they continue to be killed, and the deliberate creation of conditions that “lead to a slow death”. Palestinians in Gaza were given two choices, die quickly because of shelling and bombing or die a slow death because of the lack of basic amenities necessary to support human existence.

Gaza has become a place of death and destruction with families sleeping in the open even when the temperature plummets to less than 10 Celsius at night. Few hospitals that are left are partly functional are running critically short of supplies, and are overwhelmed with trauma cases. Some 180 women are giving birth daily amidst this chaos, having no visible future in hindsight for their young ones.

UN chief describes the situation in Gaza as a crisis of humanity, a living hell, and a situation of utter deepening and unmatched horror. More than 1% of the Gaza total population has been eliminated since the war started on the 7th of October. According to the World Food Programme, Gaza is home to 4 out of 5 people in the world who are suffering from famine or extreme hunger worldwide. It forewarned that the likelihood of disease and famine deaths would much exceed that of bomb-related deaths.

Israel's campaign has been dubbed the 'war on children' by UNICEF, with 117 children dying per day. More Palestinian children will become WCNSF (wounded children with no surviving family), the terrible new acronym borne out of Israeli's genocidal assault on the civilian population. (Deaths by Starvation and Disease May Top Deaths by Bombs as Families Squeezed into Deadly “Safe Zones”, Two Months into Gaza Crisis - Occupied Palestinian Territory | ReliefWeb, 2023)

Decoding the Significance of the ICJ's Interim Decision

On Friday, the International Court of Justice issued a set of interim measures mandating Israel to adhere to the 1948 Genocide Convention, permit increased humanitarian assistance to enter Gaza and take action against individuals making genocidal statements. In a very remarkable manner court accepted that there is a plausibility that Israel is likely to commit or is committing the act of genocide.

President Joan Donoghue while delivering the interim judgment, accepted that we are facing a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system which is deteriorating at a catastrophic speed with potentially of irreversible implications. The court repeatedly stressed the extraordinary amount of death and devastation occurring on the ground.

Following the well-laid precedents court held that the situation is apt for issuing provisional measures, one of the key demands of the South African side; though falls short of issuing a ceasefire. Israel was ordered by the court to take all appropriate measures in compliance with its duties under the convention concerning the prevention and punishment of genocide for any conduct falling under the purview of Article 2.

The international community now has another tool in its arsenal, as calls for a ceasefire around the world have gained momentum, adding to the pressure on Israel and its American allies despite the court's lack of authority in enforcing the verdict.

Netanyahu who is overseeing the war is fighting against numerous opponents, there is Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, Iran-backed militia in Syria and the list keeps going. Netanyahu had responded to all of them in the same way with brute force because he is aware that the day war ends his tenure in the history of Israel’s democracy will also come to an end. (Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide)

Notwithstanding the genocidal convention’s recognition of the need to rid the world of the odious scourge of genocide, the international community has repeatedly failed, it failed the people of Rwanda (1994-1995), it failed the Bosnian people (1992-1995) and the Rohingya’s in Myanmar (2016-2017). So, if the ruling is ignored it becomes incumbent upon the member states to take this to the UNSC to have the ruling enforced to prevent a forthcoming genocide. (ICJ First Ruling on South Africa Genocide Case against Israel in Gaza Live Updates The Hindu - The Hindu.)


[1] Irvin-Erickson, D. (2017), Raphael Lemkin and the Concept of Genocide, Available Here

[2] Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip, Available Here

[3] ‘Erase Gaza’: War Unleashes Incendiary Rhetoric in Israel, Available Here

[4] Deaths by starvation and disease may top deaths by bombs as families squeezed into deadly “safe zones”, two months into Gaza crisis—Occupied Palestinian territory, Available Here

[5] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Available Here

[6] ICJ first ruling on South Africa genocide case against Israel in Gaza, Available Here

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Onkar Mishra

Onkar Mishra

Onkar Mishra, enrolled at National Law University in Odisha, India, demonstrates an unwavering commitment to transforming the international legal system. In his pursuit of knowledge and justice, he showcases a deep dedication to leaving a lasting impact on the global legal landscape.

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