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South Africa requests International Court of Justice to urgently act to prevent famine in Gaza genocide

South Africa has today (Wednesday, 6 March 2024) approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with an urgent application for the provisional measures the court ordered on 26 January 2024 to be strengthened to prevent a catastrophic famine in the Gaza Strip.

The urgent application has been necessitated by widespread starvation in Gaza, which has claimed the lives of at least 15 children in the past week alone, with the actual numbers believed to be much higher. United Nations experts warn that the number of deaths will increase exponentially unless military activities are halted and the blockade is lifted.

South Africa has therefore requested the indication and/or modification of the following provisional measures:

1. All participants in the conflict must ensure that all fighting and hostilities come to an immediate halt, and that all hostages and detainees are released immediately. 

2. All Parties to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide must, forthwith, take all measures necessary to comply with all of their obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. 

3. All Parties to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide must, forthwith, refrain from any action, and in particular any armed action or support thereof, which might prejudice the right of the Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide and related prohibited acts, or any other rights in respect of whatever judgment the Court may render in the case, or which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve. 

4. The State of Israel shall take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address famine and starvation and the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in Gaza, by: 

(a)  immediately suspending its military operations in Gaza; 

(b)  lifting its blockade of Gaza; 

(c)  rescinding all other existing measures and practices that directly or indirectly have the effect of obstructing the access of Palestinians in Gaza to humanitarian assistance and basic services; and

(d) ensuring the provision of adequate and sufficient food, water, fuel, shelter, clothing, hygiene and sanitation requirements, alongside medical assistance, including medical supplies and support. 

5. The State of Israel shall submit an open report to the Court on all measures taken to give effect to all provisional measures ordered by the Court to date, within one month as from the date of this Order. 

On 29 December 2023, South Africa approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ), as a State Party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (‘Genocide Convention’), seeking an order to prevent Israel from committing genocide against the Palestinian people who, along with all other distinct national, racial and ethnical groups, are protected by that Convention.

On 26 January 2024, the Court ruled that South Africa’s claim met the standard of plausibility and, on the request of South Africa, ordered Israel inter alia, to take action to prevent and punish genocide, incitement to genocide, and to enable the immediate and effective provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance to besieged Gaza. These ‘Provisional Measures’ were issued by the Court to prevent irreparable and irreversible harm to the rights of Palestinians pending the Court’s final decision on the case.

Regrettably, Israel has not complied with the Court’s binding Order, but has instead escalated its genocidal acts against the Palestinian people. On 15 February 2024, following a letter to the Court from South Africa in response to Israel’s threatened assault on Rafah, the Court reminded Israel that “the perilous situation [in Rafah] demands immediate and effective implementation of the provisional measures indicated” by it on 26 January 2024, which included Israel’s obligation to ensure ‘the safety and security of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip’. 

Israel’s ongoing failure to immediately and effectively implement the Court’s Order and comply with its obligations under the Genocide Convention, as well as its contempt for the Court, is manifest. As a result, the dire situation of Palestinians in Gaza that gave rise to that Order has worsened in all respects. The world has watched in horror as over two million people in Gaza face famine. As United Nations Human Rights Experts warned on 5 March 2024:

“Israel has been intentionally starving the Palestinian people in Gaza since 8 October. Now it is targeting civilians seeking humanitarian aid and humanitarian convoys. Israel must end its campaign of starvation and targeting of civilians. … Israel is not respecting its international legal obligations, is not complying with the provisional measures of the International Court of Justice, and is committing atrocity crimes. We have said before: we are alarmed to see an entire civilian population suffering such unprecedented starvation, so quickly and completely. We have been saying for months that widespread famine is imminent in Gaza.”

Under the Genocide Convention, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the destruction of Palestinians – including through mass starvation and destruction of food systems – amounts to genocide. 

The situation is urgent. South Africa has no choice but to approach the Court for the strengthening of the Provisional Measures in place to try prevent full-scale famine, starvation and disease in the Gaza Strip, which experts predict may result in more than 85 000 deaths in the next six months, if nothing is done. South Africa’s approach comes on the back of warnings by the UN General Assembly, and an unprecedented number of UN bodies and human rights experts that have recognised that the only way to avert such a catastrophe is by an immediate cessation of hostilities to enable full and effective delivery of humanitarian aid. South Africa’s request to the Court includes an order for all participants in the conflict to ensure that all fighting and hostilities come to an immediate halt, and that all States Parties to the Genocide Convention refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute or make it more difficult to resolve.

Time is running out for the Palestinians. It is already too late for the 30,000 people who have lost their lives in Gaza since the start of the conflict. The world has an obligation to do whatever can be done immediately to stop further suffering and loss of life. The threat of all-out famine has now materialised. The Court needs to act now to stop the imminent tragedy by immediately and effectively ensuring that the rights it has found are threatened under the Genocide Convention are protected.  The people of Gaza cannot wait.


Media enquiries: Vincent Magwenya, Spokesperson to the President - 

Issued by: The Presidency

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