South Africa Lodges Urgent Complaint with Int’l Court of Justice Over Israel’s Plan to Assault Rafah


Juan Cole | Informed Comment - TRANSCEND Media Service

14 Feb 2024 – The South African government lodged an urgent complaint on Monday [12 Feb] at the International Court of Justice against the plan announced by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to attack Rafah in southern Gaza, where 1.4 million people, most of them refugees from elsewhere, have been pushed by the Israeli military. So reports Siyabonga Mkhwanazi at Pretoria’s Independent On Line (IOL) (a consortium of South Africa newspapers).

The IOL says that President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed Tuesday that South Africa has inquired with the ICJ whether it needs to issue another preliminary judgment to stop Israel’s planned offensive against Rafah. The Court is permitted to issue provisional orders at any time without having to convene to decide the case finally.

Lizeka Tandwa at the Mail & Guardian reports that the further submission to the court pointed out that “Rafah is the last refuge for the surviving people in Gaza.”

Vincent Magwenya, the spokesman for South African’s president, posted this statement to the presidency web site:

The South African Government has made an urgent request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to consider whether the decision announced by Israel to extend its military operations in Rafah, which is the last refuge for surviving people in Gaza, requires that the court uses its power to prevent further imminent breach of the rights of Palestinians in Gaza.

Under Article 75(1) of the Rules of Court, “The Court may at any time decide to examine proprio motu whether the circumstances of the case require the indication of provisional measures which ought to be taken or complied with by any or all of the parties.”

In a request submitted to the court yesterday (12 February 2024), the South African government said it was gravely concerned that the unprecedented military offensive against Rafah, as announced by the State of Israel, has already led to and will result in further large scale killing, harm and destruction. This would be in serious and irreparable breach both of the Genocide Convention and of the Court’s Order of 26 January 2024.

South Africa trusts this matter will receive the necessary urgency in light of the daily death toll in Gaza.

IOL reports that Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, said that South Africa would not remain silent as Israel carried out atrocities in Gaza.

Zane Dangor, Director-General of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said that Israel is already in violation of of the measures ordered by the Court on January 26, according to TimesLive.

Al Jazeera English: “South Africa makes urgent request to ICJ on Israel’s Rafah offensive”

On January 26, the International Court of Justice instructed Israel to cease actions in Gaza that meet the definition of genocide in international law:

The Court considers that, with regard to the situation described above, Israel must, in accordance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention, in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of this Convention, in particular:

    • (a) killing members of the group;
    • (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    • (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and
    • (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

The Court recalls that these acts fall within the scope of Article II of the Convention when they are committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a group as such. The Court further considers that Israel must ensure with immediate effect that its military forces do not commit any of the above-described acts.

Not only has the Israeli government thumbed its nose at the court’s preliminary injunction, continuing to kill dozens of non-combatants daily and continuing to bomb dense population centers, including refugee camps, but now is planning an operation that human rights organizations are warning would be catastrophic.

The International Court of Justice was established to settle disputes among United Nations member states. The court has found that South Africa has standing to bring this action, which complains that Israel is violating the 1948 Genocide Convention to which both it and South Africa are signatories. Although it may take a long time for the court to rule on whether Israel’s actions in Gaza amount to genocide, the court has already issued the equivalent of a preliminary injunction, recognizing the plausibility of the South African allegations.


Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment. He is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and author of, among many other books, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.


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