/ 13 February 2024

South Africa approaches ICJ to intervene in Rafah

Aftermath Of Israeli Airstrikes On Rafah
A fire burns in the remains of the destroyed Al-Huda mosque following Israeli military operations in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court warned Israel to follow international law in Gaza and said that his office is investigating the conflict "as a matter of the utmost urgency." Photographer: Ahmad Salem/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration has again turned to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to ask it to act against the Israeli government after it carried out an aggressive attack on Gaza. The request was made on Monday, the presidency said.

In a statement, presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said Pretoria had made an urgent request to the world court to consider whether the decision announced by Israel to extend its military operations in Rafah was in breach of the rights of Palestinians in Gaza.

Rafah is the last refuge for the surviving people in Gaza, the statement said.

The Israeli government has received potentially damaging criticism for its use of excessive force against the Palestinian people who have sought refuge in Rafah. Israel’s allies, including British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and US President Joe Biden, have censured Tel Aviv after reports of bombardment of the area.

In a recent published speech, Cameron said Israel should stop and think seriously before taking any further action in Rafah, while Biden said Israel should halt plans for a Rafah offensive. 

The British government has abstained from voting at the UN Security Council to condemn the war in Gaza, while the US is the only country which has its vote to veto action against Israel. 

South Africa has been championing the Palestinian course in international forums, including the UN and its bodies. 

The government won a decisive victory against Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration at the ICJ when the court ruled — in a case launched by Pretoria in December — that it was plausible that Israel’s conduct in Gaza amounted to genocide. 

Magwenya said Article 75(1) of the Rules of Court stated that the ICJ may at any time decide on its own initiative to examine whether the circumstances of the case required 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, 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,” Magwenya said.

“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.”