South Africa has gone to the ICJ, or International Court of Justice, in The Hague, charging that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. On Thursday and Friday the court will hear arguments from both sides and will then decide whether to issue an interim order that Israel stop its bombardment of Gaza.
“There are ongoing reports of crimes against humanity and war crimes being committed as well as reports that acts meeting the threshold of genocide or related crimes as defined in the 1948 ‘Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide’ have been and may still be committed in the context of the ongoing massacres in Gaza," said Clayson Monyela, spokesman for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation
South Africa and Israel are both signatories to the convention. Legal experts say the full case to prove Israel is guilty of genocide could take years, but the hearings this week are an urgent measure to seek a quick order against Israel in the meantime.
If South Africa wins at what is often dubbed “the World Court,” it will be an international embarrassment for Israel, lawyers told VOA this week.
However, while decisions by the court are binding, they are not always followed. Russia for example has still not obeyed a 2022 ICJ order that it halt its invasion of Ukraine.
“Enforcement is typically the Achilles heel of international justice at the ICJ," said Mia Swart, a visiting international law professor at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand. "It’s probably highly likely that Israel will not, you know, immediately desist from all military action should the court order this and this will then have to go to the Security Council."
As a permanent member of the top U.N. body the U.S. has veto powers and is a firm ally of Israel. Washington, like the Israeli government, has called South Africa’s lawsuit “meritless.”
South Africa’s support for the Palestinian cause is longstanding, said Gerhard Kemp, a South African law professor at the University of the West of England, Bristol.
“There’s also an historic reason for this, the African National Congress, the governing party of South Africa has a very longstanding relationship with the people of Gaza, Palestine, with the Palestinian liberation movements," Kemp said. "So therefore, there’s also historical significance in that South Africa is taking the lead on this by bringing Israel to the ICJ.”
The African National Congress, or ANC, was itself once a banned liberation movement that led an armed struggle against the racist white apartheid regime in South Africa, and says it sees echoes of that in the plight of the Palestinians.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela was a close friend of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and famously said South Africa's freedom would not be complete until the Palestinians were also free.