1703897311 South Africa launches UN top court lawsuit accusing Israel of

South Africa's genocide case against Israel sparks high-risk legal battle at U.N. top court – The Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — South Africa has filed a case before the United Nations' top court alleging that Israel's military operation in Gaza amounts to genocide.

The lawsuit and Israel's decision to defend itself at the International Court of Justice led to a high-stakes showdown before a panel of judges in the Great Hall of Justice.

The case is likely to drag on for years. The focus is on the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, drawn up after World War II and the Holocaust.

The convention defines genocide as acts such as killings “committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”

Here are some more details about the case and its implications.


South Africa's 84-page filing says Israel's actions are “genocidal in nature because they aim to bring about the destruction of a significant portion” of Palestinians in Gaza.

It asks the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, to issue a series of legally binding rulings. She wants the court to declare that Israel “has violated and continues to violate its obligations under the Genocide Convention” and to order Israel to cease hostilities in Gaza that could constitute a violation of the convention, to offer reparations and to begin reconstruction worries about what was destroyed in Gaza.

The filing argues that acts of genocide include killing Palestinians, inflicting serious mental and physical harm, and intentionally inflicting conditions designed to “bring about their physical destruction as a group.” And statements by Israeli officials are said to express genocidal intent.

South Africa argues that the court has jurisdiction because both countries are signatories to the Genocide Convention. The ninth article of the convention states that disputes between nations over the convention may be referred to the International Court of Justice.

Many South Africans, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, have compared Israel's policies toward Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to South Africa's former apartheid regime of racial segregation. Israel rejects such allegations.

How did Israel react?

The Israeli government immediately rejected the accusation of genocide. A Foreign Ministry statement said South Africa's case had no legal basis and represented a “despicable and contemptible exploitation” of the court.

Eylon Levy, an official in the Israeli prime minister's office, accused South Africa on Tuesday of providing “political and legal cover” for the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that triggered Israel's campaign. However, he confirmed that Israel would send a legal team to The Hague “to dispel South Africa's absurd blood libel,” he said.

An Israeli official said the country, which has ignored international tribunals in the past, decided to defend itself for several reasons. These include Israel's role in promoting the original Genocide Convention after the Holocaust and its belief that “we have a strong case.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he discussed behind-the-scenes deliberations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the war until Hamas is dismantled and the more than 100 hostages still held by the militant group in the Gaza Strip are released. He said that could take several months.


Documents filed by South Africa include a request for the court to urgently issue legally binding interim orders requiring Israel to “immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza.”

Such orders, so-called interim measures, would remain in place for the duration of the proceedings. They are legally binding, but are not always adhered to. In 2022, in a genocide case filed by Ukraine against Russia, the court ordered Moscow to immediately stop its invasion. The order was ignored and the deadly attacks continue.

The court will soon schedule public hearings. Lawyers for South Africa and Israel can make arguments. Judges from around the world will likely take days or weeks to make a decision on interim measures.

The court will then begin a lengthy process to review the entire case.

Israel could challenge the jurisdiction and try to dismiss the case before the lawyers start arguing. Other countries that have signed the Genocide Convention could also apply.


Two more genocide cases are on the busy court's agenda. The lawsuit, filed by Ukraine shortly after the Russian invasion, accuses Moscow of launching the military operation based on fabricated claims of genocide and accuses Russia of planning acts of genocide in Ukraine.

Another ongoing case involves Gambia, which, on behalf of Muslim nations, accuses Myanmar of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

In a previous case brought by Bosnia, the court ruled in 2007 that Serbia “violated the obligation to prevent genocide with regard to the genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995.” The court refused to order Serbia to pay compensation. Croatia also sued Serbia in 2015, but the World Court ruled that Serbia had not violated the convention in that case.


The Hague calls itself the international city of peace and justice. Not only is the International Court of Justice located here, but also the International Criminal Court, which has its headquarters just a few kilometers away, near the North Sea coast.

The two courts have different mandates.

The International Court of Justice, which held its first session in 1946 as the world emerged from the carnage of World War II, decides cases between nations. These often involve disputes over land and maritime borders as well as disagreements over the interpretation of international treaties.

The ICC is much younger. It began its work in 2002 with the lofty goal of ending global impunity for atrocities. Unlike the International Court of Justice, it aims to hold individuals criminally responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The ICC is currently investigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which dates back to the last war in Gaza. No arrest warrants have been issued so far.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said last month that an investigation into possible crimes by Hamas militants and Israeli forces was “a priority for my office.”

What about past UN cases?

Two now-dissolved UN tribunals also conducted groundbreaking genocide trials.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia convicted a number of high-ranking Bosnian Serbs, including former President Radovan Karadzic and his military chief General Ratko Mladic, for their roles in the July 1995 massacre of more than 8,000 men and boys in the Bosnia and Herzegovina town of Srebrenica.

Both Karadzic and Mladic were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda convicted a number of leaders involved in the African country's 1994 genocide in which some 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were slaughtered.


Associated Press writer Josef Federman contributed from Jerusalem.