Gaza: ICJ ruling offers hope for protection of civilians enduring apocalyptic conditions, say UN experts
(Press Release - UN Special Procedures) – The landmark ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) offers the first concrete hope to protect civilians in Gaza enduring apocalyptic humanitarian conditions, destruction, mass killing, wounding and irreparable trauma, UN experts* said today.
“The ruling is a significant milestone in the decades-long struggle for justice by the Palestinian people,” the experts said.
The ICJ found it plausible that Israel’s acts could amount to genocide and issued six provisional measures, ordering Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent genocidal acts, including preventing and punishing incitement to genocide, ensuring aid and services reach Palestinians under siege in Gaza, and preserving evidence of crimes committed in Gaza.
“We echo the sense of urgency demonstrated by the Court in its short, two-week deliberation, as hundreds of Palestinians, primarily women and children, are being killed by Israeli forces every day, resulting in a death toll of 26,751 people in Gaza over the past three months. This amounts to over 1% of the population.
“The court order is urgently needed to protect the very existence of the Palestinian people from potentially genocidal actions the Court has ordered Israel to halt and prevent,” the experts said. “Given the dire situation on the ground and the careful wording of the Court, we believe that the most effective way to implement the provisional measures is through an immediate ceasefire.”
In the ICJ proceedings, South Africa contended that Israel is violating its obligations under the Genocide Convention with its military assault on Gaza, which began on 8 October, after the attack by Hamas and Palestinian armed groups in Israel, which killed 1,200 people and wounded many more. 240 people were also taken hostage in the attack.
During oral hearings earlier this month, Israel sought to have the case dismissed by the ICJ judges—a motion that was rejected last Friday (26 January).
“We see the decision as dismissing Israel’s justification of its actions as self-defence in compliance with international humanitarian law,” the experts said. “The Court found that Israel cannot continue to bombard, displace, and starve the population of Gaza, while allowing its officials to dehumanise Palestinians through statements that may amount to genocidal incitement.”
According to the experts, the period since 7 October marks one of the grimmest in the histories of both Palestine and Israel.
The 7 October attack, which the experts firmly condemned as war crimes, sent shockwaves across the world. In Israel, families continue to mourn the dead and heal the wounds of terror they experienced on 7 October. Reiterating that all parties to the conflict, including Hamas, remain bound by international humanitarian law, the ICJ called for the release of the hostages. “Their fate remains unknown, an agony for families longing for their safe return,” the experts said.
“In the spiralling violence that followed, marked by ineffective or absent international pressure, and politicisation of UN fora, the ICJ’s order tilts the balance toward a global order based on justice and international law,” the experts said. “This is the only basis for lasting peace and stability between Palestinians and Israelis.”
“We call on Israel to adhere to the ICJ order. The burden now shifts to Israel, to show that it has effectively eliminated the risk of genocide that the Court found to be plausible. By the time Israel reports to the Court in one month, Palestinians must have access to food, water, healthcare, and safety, that have long been denied to them,” they said.
In light of the urgency of the situation and the real risk of irreparable harm to the people in Gaza, the experts also urged states parties to the Genocide Convention to abide by their obligations to prevent genocide, taking all measures in their power to ensure implementation of the ICJ’s provisional measures. The experts also stressed the critical role that civil society plays to give effect to this ruling.
*The experts: Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Cecilia M. Bailliet, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Angkhana Neelapaijit, Grażyna Baranowska, Ana Lorena Delgadillo Perez, Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances; Surya Deva, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Ashwini K.P. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Bina D’Costa, Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Claudia Flores, Ivana Krstić, Haina Lu, and Laura Nyirinkindi, Working group on discrimination against women and girls; Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Ms Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of freedom of opinion and expression; Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Robert McCorquodale (Chair-Rapporteur), Fernanda Hopenhaym (Vice-Chair), Pichamon Yeophantong, Damilola Olawuyi, Elzbieta Karska, Working Group on business and human rights; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association;Ms. Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.