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Televised Address by the President of the Republic of South Africa, H.E. Cyril Ramaphosa, on the ruling of the International Court of Justice

Fellow South Africans,   

Earlier today, the International Court of Justice in The Hague issued a ruling that is a victory for international law, for human rights, and above all, for justice. 

This follows the unprecedented action taken by South Africa to take another country to the international court of justice. 

On the 29th of December 2023, South Africa filed an application instituting proceedings against the State of Israel for the violence it has unleashed on the people of the Gaza Strip, arguing that Israel was in breach of its obligations under the Convention.  

South Africa had earlier condemned the 7 October 2023, attack by Hamas and other groups that resulted in the deaths of many Israelis and the taking of hostages. 

The court in its judgment affirmed South Africa’s right to take Israel to court – even though it is not a party to the conflict in Gaza.  

The ICJ, as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, has handed down a ruling that the State of Israel should immediately implement a set of provisional measures to prevent any further acts of genocide in Gaza, to desist from such acts, and to take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence relating to acts of genocide. As the South African Government we welcome the decision of the ICJ. 

We note the court’s statement that it is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region, and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life and human suffering and that the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is at serious risk of deteriorating further before the court renders its final judgement.   

We welcome the measures that the court ordered by majority decision, ruling that Israel military should not commit acts of genocide against Palestinians. Israel should take all measures to prevent and punish incitement to genocide. Furthermore, take immediate and effective measures to allow basic services and humanitarian assistance to Gaza and it should preserve evidence of what is happening in Gaza, including submitting a report within a month on all measures taken to give effect to the ICJ order within one month. 

This Order is binding on Israel, and must be respected by all states that are party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. 

We expect Israel as a self-proclaimed democracy and a state that respects the rule of law to abide by the measures handed down by the International Court of Justice.  
After more than half a century of occupation, dispossession, oppression and apartheid, the Palestinian people’s cries for justice have been heeded by an eminent organ of the United Nations.

Today, Israel stands before the international community, its crimes against the Palestinians laid bare. Since October last year, the people of Gaza have been the victims of bombardment and strikes from land and air. Homes, refugee camps and entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed and not even schools and hospitals have been spared. 

The people of Gaza have been deprived of electricity, fuel, food, and medical supplies. According to the United Nations, more than 25 000 people have been killed during Israel’s war with Hamas. Among the dead are relief workers, UN staff, and journalists.   

More than 16 000 of the dead are women and children. In October 2023 the UN Children’s Fund said: “Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children.” According to the UN thousands of children were killed in just the first three weeks of the current conflict.  

As South Africa argued in its application to the ICJ, the high civilian death toll, and the sheer scale of the destruction that has resulted from Israel’s response to the 7 October attacks is vastly disproportionate to any claim by Israel that it has been acting in self-defence. We have called Israel’s attacks on Gaza genocidal acts, acts for which Israel should and must be held accountable.   

Today the International Court of Justice has vindicated us. The Court has concluded that pursuant to Article 9 of the Convention, it has jurisdiction to adjudicate our application. The effect of the Order that the ICJ has granted today is that there is a plausible case of genocide.   

This marks an important first step in our quest to secure justice for the people of Gaza.  
Some have told us to mind our own business. Others have said it was not our place. And yet it is very much our place, as people who know too well the pain of dispossession, discrimination, state-sponsored violence.   

We are also a people who were the victims of the crime of apartheid. We know what apartheid looks like. We experienced and lived through it. Sadly, many of people died and were exiled like our beloved leader Oliver Tambo and others, others were jailed like the father of our democracy and others were maimed.  

We, as South Africans, will not be passive bystanders and watch the crimes that were visited upon us being perpetrated elsewhere. We stand on the side of freedom for all. We stand on the side of justice.

Thirty years ago, following our first democratic elections, President Nelson Mandela declared: “Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”   

And so, we say again today, never, never and never again shall it be that acts of genocide are perpetrated with impunity as we, the international community look on. We firmly believe that following this judgment there should now be a more concerted effort towards a ceasefire and negotiations should commence on a permanent two state solution, to enable Israel and Palestine to live side by side as independent states. 

As South Africa we thank all in the international community who have supported our application, including a number of countries who have declared their intention to be part of our application. 

We will not waver in our commitment to the Palestinian people and their quest for self-determination. Our own painful history obliges us to do no less. We thank the International Court of Justice for upholding its role of achieving justice, promoting peace, preventing genocide and holding those guilty of genocide accountable.  

It is our earnest hope and wish that this court order paves the way for an end to this crisis, for an end to the terrible loss of life and hardship, and for the crucial first steps to be taken towards reconciliation and a just, lasting peace.  

I thank you.      

 Union Building