“No armed attack” can justify breaching genocide convention, South Africa argues

Addressing the court, South Africa’s Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola said the oppression of Palestinian people did not begin following the Hamas attacks, arguing it has been ongoing for years. 

“In the Gaza Strip, at least since 2004, Israel continues to exercise control over the air space, territorial waters, land crossing, water, electricity and civilian infrastructure.”

He said that “South Africa unequivocally condemned the targeting of civilians by Hamas and other Palestinians and groups, and the taking of hostages on the 7th of October 2023.”

But, he argued, “no armed attack on state territory, no matter how serious… even an attack involving atrocity crimes can provide any justification for, or defense to, breaches to the convention. Whether it is a matter of law or morality.

“Israel’s response to the 7th of October 2023 attack has crossed this line and gives rise to the breaches of the convention,” he told the court.

Israel launched its campaign in Gaza following the October 7 attacks, in which Hamas killed 1,200 people in Israel and took more than 200 others hostage.

Its president said Israel plans to argue it is acting in self-defense when it responds to South Africa on Friday.

A reminder: The ICJ, established in 1945, is the United Nations’ top court and hears cases brought by states accusing others of violating their UN treaty obligations. South Africa and Israel are signatories to the 1948 Genocide Convention, meaning they are obliged not to commit genocide and to prevent and punish it. The convention automatically grants the ICJ jurisdiction over signatory states. 


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