subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now
Picture: 123RF/LUKAS GOJDA
Picture: 123RF/LUKAS GOJDA

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday affirmed the need for an “immediate and effective implementation” of its interim January ruling against Israel after SA urgently requested the court to act due to recent Israeli operations in Rafah, southern Gaza.

However, the court dismissed SA’s request for “additional measures” to be added to its January ruling ordering Israel to, among other things, ensure its forces do not commit acts of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

From Monday the ICJ will host week-long hearings into the legality of “the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”, with more than 50 states, including SA, participating.

This is separate from SA’s widely publicised case against Israel. 

“SA has not proposed [a new order] or asked the ICJ to modify existing [orders it obtained in January] in any specific way,” Michael Becker, assistant professor in international human rights law at Trinity College, Dublin, said. Becker has worked at the ICJ.

“Instead, SA [asked] the court to use its own powers, under the court’s rules, to take action because of the urgency of the situation in Rafah against the backdrop of Israel’s stated military plans.”

In its urgent request, SA said it was “gravely concerned” with the new escalated Israeli military operations in Rafah, which the SA presidency describes as “the last refuge for surviving people in Gaza”.

SA says targeting Rafah would result in breaches of both the Genocide Convention and the January ICJ order.

SA alleged that Israel is violating the Genocide Convention in its operations in Gaza, which Israel says is a war against Hamas. Israel says it is responding to the October 7 attacks by Hamas that led to a reported 1,200 Israelis killed and about 240 kidnapped by Hamas militants. Since then, a reported almost 30,000 Gazans have been killed in Israeli military operations.

A near unanimous 17-judge bench of the ICJ stopped short of demanding a ceasefire , in its January ruling.

SA’s new emergency application last Tuesday made in terms of article 75(1) of the ICJ court rules, notes that since the ICJ’s January order “there has … been a significant development in the situation in Gaza requiring the court’s urgent attention”.  

Becker says SA went this route because “it avoids the need for a hearing”, which would cause delays that should be avoided, given the immediacy of the danger to residents of Gaza.

Gerhard Kemp, law professor at the University of the West of England, Bristol, says SA’s conduct is “rare”, since it is not often an ICJ applicant such as SA “ask[s] the ICJ to act proprio motu [on its own initiative].”

Earlier in February Israel indicated its intention to escalate its operations in Rafah, where it says, “Hamas battalions” are located.

SA, citing UN reports, notes Rafah houses “more than half of Gaza’s population ... estimated at approximately 1.4-million people, approximately half of them children”. SA says these people “fled to Rafah, pursuant to Israeli military evacuation orders, from homes and areas that have been largely destroyed by Israel”.

Hisham Mhanna, Red Cross spokesperson, said in a recent CNN interview: “There is nowhere else for the people to go”. UN secretary-general António Guterres told the UN General Assembly two weeks ago that Israel’s new Rafah operations “would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare”.

This was echoed by Uniceef, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian territories and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, among others, says SA. NGOs in Rafah made similar points.

In response to SA’s new request, Israel last week said SA’s new request was “improper” and was “wholly unfounded in fact and law, morally repugnant, and represents an abuse [of the court]”. It also reaffirmed its “commitment to the observance of international law”. 

The ICJ on Friday said it noted the “recent developments” in Rafah. It ruled “the perilous situation demands immediate and effective implementation of the [January order]". Because that order applies throughout Gaza, including Rafah, no additional measures were needed, the court said. 

Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the department of international relations & co-operarion, said SA “welcomes” the decision as it “reaffirmed our view of the perilous situation” in Rafah.

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.