Address by Dr GNM Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation at the Brazilian Foreign Ministry and Diplomatic Academy, “The Palestinian Question as an Issue of Human Rights, Self-Determination and Genocide”, 22 April 2024

Address by Dr GNM Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation at the Brazilian Foreign Ministry and Diplomatic Academy, 22 April 2024

 “The Palestinian Question as an Issue of Human Rights, Self-Determination and Genocide”


Programme Director,


Senior officials,

Ladies and gentlemen,


The history of struggle against racism and apartheid in South Africa is a well-known historical record. There is less acknowledgement and study of the influence this history has imposed as a legacy on democratic free South Africa.


The struggle for freedom was primarily led by the forces of the liberation organisation the African National Congress. An organisation formed in 1912 as a national organisation focussed at that time on impending racial legislation that was intended to dispossess African people of their land and confine them to black poor rural enclaves from where they would eke out a miserable existence fully dependent on income from serving white owned capital in mining cities of South Africa.


The first Conference of the African Native Congress was convened with astounding insight by its leaders at the time. Traditional leaders academics legal experts religious leaders and delegations from all the oppressed groups in South Africa were present and agreed to create a national organisation to lead the struggle against land dispossession and racism. Missing from the conference were women delegates except one very brave African woman, Charlotte Maxeke whose presence was debated for seven hours until the male delegates agreed she could continue attending.


The fact of the long existence of the organisation has imposed a unique and important character and obligation on the ANC then and today.


In 1914 the First World War broke out the ANC later convened to discuss whether to send black volunteers to the Union effort as South African being a British Colony at that time sent troops to join Allied forces. History indicates the volunteers were not allowed to bear arms and were reminded of their inferior status constantly despite their readiness to sacrifice their lives even though they enjoyed no dignity or human rights.


They had the same posture in the Second World War volunteering some in the hope that their belief in the equality of human beings would influence their status at home and lead to new recognition of human equality in South Africa.


The history is long and fascinating, however the key issue here is that at every stage of humanity’s presumed advance in progressive human rights formulation and adoption the ANC was there and active. In the long history of popular struggle, they attached to a stubborn belief that all persons are equal and deserving of human rights, that rights are universal and should impact on all and not be the preserve of a few. They were also oddly international in their struggle, carrying petitions to the United Kingdom, the League of Nations, the United Nations, and many other institutions.


Being an old liberation organisation means they participated vicariously or practically in the crafting of UN instruments and frameworks, lobbied leaders organisations and people to advance modern progressive ideals. This is gleaned from their formulation of the African Claims document of 1943 and the well-known Freedom Charter that was adopted by a Congress of the People in 1955. So, the early years of political organisation for black people initially, then for all peace-loving South Africans matured into a modern demand and belief in human rights as legal rights and as belonging to all.


It is this history that informs South Africa’s bill of rights in its Constitution, its positions in the United Nations, and its well-established commitment to strive to support the struggles of the dispossessed and oppressed wherever they may be but most particularly in Africa.


One of the outcomes of this history was the creation of the notion of international solidarity through which the ANC persuaded human rights loving people across the globe that South Africa’s struggle against apartheid was a human rights struggle all humanity should join. International solidarity became a key component of the struggle and has influenced and shaped South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy.


South Africa also holds the view that human rights law and international law exist to support the most vulnerable and ensure they are protected. It is astounding to freedom fighters that international law is often perceived as being for the powerful rather than the weak. Also of great surprise was that there is inadequate fairness and justice in application of these frameworks and rules with the developing countries deriving least benefit from them.


It is vital always to recall that the United Nations was created in 1948 in a world reeling from the Nazi abuses, and yet in that very year South Africa’s National Party government (a supporter of Nazism) adopted racist apartheid policy as its law for black people unchecked by the world and with little commentary.


While the UN was created in 1948, while nations were in ruins, and the world wanted peace, the question of Palestine dates back to much earlier. For the better part of a century, Palestinians have been denied their most fundamental human rights and treated as second-class citizens in the international community.


A telling example of this denial is a 1949 letter to the Committee for the Designation of Place Names in the Negev by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, in which he clarified the logic behind erasing any reminder of Palestinian existence.


The ‘Question of Palestine’, as it is known in the United Nations (UN), is the longest unresolved human rights challenge on the UN’s agenda. It is primarily a question about the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. This is a right that, according to international law, gives Palestinians the right to resist the illegal occupation of their land.


According to Ben Gurion, Israel is ‘obliged to remove the Arabic names for reasons of state’. Ben Gurion informed the Committee that rendering Palestinians politically and morally nameless is inseparable from dispossessing them of their land and sovereignty.


In continuing this troubling history, the Israeli Prime Minister denies the existence of the Palestinian people, alleging that their historic land was a “barren mess – a ruin” before the creation of Israel. Further alleging that Palestinians only lived in what is now Israel because farms and factories built by Jewish settlers in the 19th century attracted migrant workers from neighbouring Arab lands.


His remarks came just after an interview days prior in which he stated “They (Palestinians) reconstructed history and said they’ve been here for centuries – no they haven’t, they weren’t there at all”.


The current situation brings to mind a quote extracted from a speech delivered by the late President Yasser Arafat, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 22 November 1974, when he stated “our people proclaim its faith in the future, unencumbered either by past tragedies or present limitations. If, as we discuss the present, we enlist the past in our service, we do so only to light up our journey into the future alongside other movements of national liberation. If we return now to the historical roots of our cause we do so because present at this very moment in our midst are those who, while they occupy our homes, as their cattle graze in our pastures, and as their hands pluck the fruit of our trees, claim at the same time that we are disembodied spirits, fictions without presence, without traditions or future.”


Today, we still continue to witness the Israeli coalition government’s far-right members making antagonistic, settlement expansionist comments, entrenching Israeli presence in the OPTs, particularly in the West Bank. These developments illustrate the lack of any meaningful effort directed at achieving peace or any hope for a two-state solution.


South Africa concurs with the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres 7 January 2024 remarks that opposition to a two-state solution is “unacceptable.” “The refusal to accept the two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, and the denial of the right to statehood for the Palestinian people, are unacceptable.”


History has no blank pages as they say. Just as colonialism and its demagogues dignified their conquests, their plunder, and limitless attacks upon the natives of Africa with appeals to a “civilising and modernising” mission, so too did the waves of Zionist immigrants disguise their agenda as they conquered Palestine. Just as colonialism as a system and colonialists as its roots, used religion, colour, race and language to justify the African’s exploitation and his cruel subjugation by terror and discrimination, so too were these methods employed as Palestine was usurped and its people hounded from their national homeland.


It has now been more than 74 years since the UN General Assembly approved Resolution 181 (II) recognising the partitioning of Palestine and proposed establishing a two independent States which were supposed to coexist in peace and harmony. Despite the length of time and efforts brought to bear, the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state is yet to become reality.


The most serious violation of human rights has involved the denial of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. This is a right enshrined in the UN Charter.


When in the 19th Century in Europe and Latin America the principle of nationalities emerged, it manifested itself as the principle of self-determination. In accordance with the principle, whatever might have been the case concerning groups of people within already recognised states, groups of people not yet falling under the sovereignty of any state had the right to determine their own future.


This principle was well established by 1928 when it was given significant support by the agreement of states not to use force as an instrument of foreign policy. From that time onwards, the acquisition of territory by force, which had been previously allowed under international law, was now illegal. This point was emphasised in article 2, paragraph 4 of the Charter of the United Nations, which prohibits the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of a state. The Charter also reiterates the principle of self-determination.


Today, the principle of self-determination is much better defined. It is recognised in leading human rights treaties, numerous UN resolutions, by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and by the over-whelming majority of jurists as a leading principle of international law. Some prominent jurists have even declared the right to self-determination to be a pre-emptory norm of international law or jus cogens (accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law), and the ICJ has confirmed that the right to self-determination is of an erga omnes nature, thus,  supporting the interests of all states in ensuring its respect. In legal terminology, erga omnes rights or obligations are owed toward all. Erga omnes is a Latin phrase which means “towards all” or “towards everyone”. For instance, a property right is an erga omnes entitlement and therefore enforceable against anybody infringing that right.


As Professor Hannum once stated and I quote “perhaps no contemporary norm of international law has been so vigorously promoted or so widely accepted as the right of all peoples to self-determination.” End quote. Today, South African Professor of Law John Dugard has observed that “the right of self-determination is a legal right under international law that is no longer seriously challenged.’’


While the Palestinian people are part of an existing sovereign state, they have a claim to their own independent sovereignty based on their right to self-determination. This right is created by the fact of colonisation – they have been conquered and subjected to the jurisdiction of a foreign state without their consent and are living under occupation by a foreign and oppressive occupier. This is the form of self-determination that is most widely accepted and which most clearly provides the right to one’s own independent state.


I recall a statement made by Diana Alzeer, Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Al-Haq representative, when she declared “Israel’s continued policy of territorial expansion rests on settler colonialism and apartheid. The consequence of the current acceleration of this policy is human rights violations of a severity and a scale almost never witnessed in Palestine as a whole.” She went on to state that, “Israeli land grabbing, annexation, and exploitation of natural resources is antithetical to the Palestinians’ rights to development and sustainability, and any Palestinian aspirations to live free, in justice and dignity, and practice their right to self-determination and return of Palestinian refugees.”


South Africa is strongly opposed to the illegal Israeli settlement expansion on Palestinian lands. It is concerning to learn that the Israeli Cabinet adopted a resolution on the 18 June 2023, which constitutes a further “de facto annexation” of the West Bank, allowing for the unlawful antagonistic, settlement expansionist policies directed at Palestine entrenching Israeli presence in the OPTs, particularly in the West Bank. These developments illustrate the lack of any meaningful effort at achieving peace or a two-state solution.


Israel’s continuous acts of aggression under and its brazen violation of international humanitarian law and obligations demonstrates that it seemingly has no intention to negotiate a two-state solution. It is self-evident that failure by the international community to hold Israel accountable for its continuous violation of international law has emboldened it to continue to deepen its occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) and to pursue a project that sees the West Bank annexed through increased and rapid settlement expansion.


We have continually reiterated our support for the Arab Peace Initiative which stipulates that: Complete Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967, including the Golan Heights, based on United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) 242 and 338; A just settlement of the Palestinian refugee question on the basis of UNSCR 194; and Recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state. In exchange for these measures, the member states of the Arab League would: Declare an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict, enter into a peace agreement with Israel; and establish normal relations with the State of Israel.


 No Member State is exempt from their obligations under the UN Charter. If we abandon the principles enshrined in the Charter, it renders the UNSC and its decisions ineffective.


We agree with the assertion made by Yosra Frawes, Head of Middle East and North Africa desk at the International Federation for Human Rights FIDH, referring to the recent developments, when he aptly stated that “The ongoing military invasion of the Gaza Strip has brought about a renewed Israeli presence within the territory, materialising the genocidal objectives announced in October 2023 to render Gaza uninhabitable for Palestinians.” Adding that “Israel clearly plans to keep a harsh grip over Gaza, and even if it allows the population back in the northern part of the Strip, it will most likely be under permanent occupation by settlers and the Israeli military.”


Meanwhile, a political solution is also not yet in sight. The relentless military operations by Israel and its genocidal acts have aggravated the humanitarian situation in Gaza.


The extreme nature of the crisis in Gaza must not eclipse the fact that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are in turmoil. Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the number of illegal Israeli settlers occupying Palestinian land has increased from 269,200 at that time to 700,000 today.


The number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails has almost doubled to over 7,000, including 200 women and children as young as twelve. Some have been detained without charge or trial. All These are infringements of international law.


The guiding principles of the current Israeli government, formed in December 2022, explicitly declare that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel’ and pledges to “promote and develop settlements in all parts of the Land of Israel – in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria [occupied West Bank]’; and the transfer of the administrative powers of the occupation to the Israeli government and the extension of direct civil legal authority over the settlements, which amounts to de jure annexation. By doing so, Israel institutes its annexation of the OPT. In recent months, Israeli officials and settler movements have been calling for resettling northern Gaza and places that the Israeli army destroyed during its ongoing genocide in the Gaza Strip.


It will be recalled that the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) first asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion related to the Occupied Palestinian Territory in December 2003. In July 2004, the ICJ’s advisory opinion found that the route of Israel’s separation barrier violated international law and that it should be dismantled. However, Israel has ignored the ruling.


Subsequently, in December 2022, the UNGA forwarded a request to the ICJ after a General Assembly resolution that passed with 87 votes in favour, 26 against and 53 abstentions. Of the 40 African countries present for the vote, 26 voted in favour, four against, and 10 abstained. The UNGA asked the court to give its opinion on the “legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, from its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation” of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including “its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures,” and on the legal consequences of the occupation and Israel’s practices for all states and the UN.


The UNGA request provides the court the opportunity to evaluate the situation two decades after its last advisory opinion on the Occupied Palestinian Territory and provide guidance on the law, including the continued application of international humanitarian law and human rights law. The court could also assess Israel’s conduct under international human rights law, including prohibitions on racial discrimination, and international criminal law, including the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.


In this regard, from 19-26 February 2024, the ICJ held public hearings on the request for an advisory opinion in respect of the Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. The hearings were held against the backdrop of a heightened conflict which has seen the killing of over 33 000 Palestinians since October 2023.


During the historic hearings, the State of Palestine, over 50 Member States of the United Nations and three international organizations presented oral statements.


South Africa, represented by Ambassador Madonsela and Advocate Stemmet, made a presentation to the ICJ on 20 February 2024. During the hearing, South Africa told the Court that Israel is responsible for apartheid against the Palestinians, and its occupation is inherently, fundamentally illegal and by implication, in violation of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.


Of the over 50 member states that were party to the proceedings, only three, namely, Israel, the US and Hungary made statements unequivocally defending the legality of the occupation. Fifteen African countries and the African Union (AU) contributed to the case. They were united in their statements, which focused on international humanitarian law and argued that the occupation breached the Apartheid Convention.


As we know, Israel rejected the ICJ proceedings as illegitimate and as a result, it did not participate in the oral proceedings but, in a five-page written submission, Israel said the questions put to the court are prejudiced and “fail to recognise Israel’s right and duty to protect its citizens.”


It is encouraging to note that the majority of countries that are supporting the Palestinian cause hold a position that by transferring parts of its civilian population into the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel violated Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits occupying powers from deporting or transferring parts of their civilian population into the territory they occupy. It also prohibits the ‘individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory.’ This reaffirms the ICJ’s advisory opinion on the West Bank wall.


No other application before the ICJ has involved this many countries, although the 2003 West Bank wall case came close, with 45 states and four international organisations submitting written statements. Although with a poor track record on compliance, the Courts opinions are non-binding, they play a critical role in shaping international law, and are instructive.


Now that the hearings have concluded, the Judges will undergo a process of reviewing all the arguments, including 57 written submissions, and provide an advisory opinion. The judges are expected to take about six months to deliver an opinion in the case.


South Africa cannot have normal relations with Israel for as long as Israel is committing war crimes and genocide against the Palestinians, is intent on removing Palestinians from their land, and is unwilling to negotiate a viable peace plan without preconditions. South Africa cannot be party to Israel’s actions that would see the promise of Palestinian statehood reduced into balkanised entities devoid of true sovereignty, without territorial contiguity and with no economic viability.


The Government of the Republic of South Africa has consistently expressed its grave concern at the plight of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, especially in light of credible reports that acts meeting the threshold of genocide or related crimes as defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, have been and may still be committed in the context of the conflict.


South Africa called for maximum restraint on both sides to avoid civilian harm while respecting international humanitarian law. Decency requires the recognition that the losses on both sides are incomparable and vastly disproportionate, where 95 percent of the dead and wounded are Palestinians, thousands being women and children. International Humanitarian Law includes the obligation not to target civilian populations, and the responsibility to protect civilians in armed conflict. Israeli bombardments from the air, sea, and land have continued and intensified across the Gaza Strip.


The ongoing bombardment of Gaza by Israel has resulted in more civilian casualties, almost half of which are children, and created an unspeakable man-made humanitarian catastrophe. The threat of famine is imminent with disastrous consequences. Those engaged in active warfare must be reminded that the targeting of civilians, humanitarian workers, journalists and UN personnel, destruction of houses and other civilian infrastructure is illegal under international law.


These attacks should be investigated by an independent mechanism led by the UN because for too long Israel has perpetuated its unjust policies against Palestinians with impunity.


Most of Gaza is considered uninhabitable today. Several suggest this to have been central to the Israeli strategic calculus from the outset. Gaza is trapped in a vicious cycle of violence, starvation, death, maiming and destruction that presents a stain on the world and its collective humanity. Uncertainty over detention have left many families unsure if their loved ones are alive or dead as many deaths have either gone unrecorded or have been buried in makeshift graves. Some among those that have disappeared, especially badly traumatised children or the psychologically ill, may still be alive, but unable to find their relatives after being separated.


Thus, at a special Cabinet meeting on 8 December 2023, the Government decided that South Africa should institute legal proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“Genocide Convention”). The Convention provides that any dispute relating to the responsibility of State Parties to prevent or punish the crime of genocide shall be submitted to the ICJ.


In order to protect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza from immediate danger and having regard for the fact that provisional measures are treated urgently and seek to prevent irreparable harm, South Africa requested the ICJ to indicate provisional measures at the time of instituting proceedings before the ICJ.


South Africa and Israel are both Parties to the Genocide Convention, which has as its objective the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, whether the crime has been completed or not.


South Africa expressed in several multilateral fora, including at the 22nd session of the Assembly of State Parties to Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Security Council, that Israel’s conduct against the Palestinian people may amount to genocide.


The prohibition of genocide and related acts is a peremptory norm of international law which establishes obligations towards all States, whether or not they are parties to the Genocide Convention. Consequently, genocide is regarded as a crime in relation to which all States have an interest. Importantly, by instituting proceedings before the ICJ, South Africa was acting in accordance with its obligations contained in Article I of the Convention by taking a positive step to prevent genocide.


Article IX of the Genocide Convention envisages the institution of contentious proceedings before the ICJ by States Parties to the Genocide Convention against one another. It is on this basis that South Africa instituted proceedings.


The Government of Israel made their intentions clear at the outset when Defence Minister Yoav Gallant declared, “I have ordered a complete siege of the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel… We are fighting human animals.”


South Africa is gravely concerned that Israel continues with its plausible genocidal acts in complete disregard of the provisional measures of the International Court of Justice.


The intent to deny the Palestinian people not only medicine, but fuel, food and water have amplified the case that what we are witnessing is a genocide. Not only has Israel cut much of the water supply to Gaza, it has bombed public water tanks near Rafah, and even solar panels in Gaza City, which serve as the sole source of electricity for the remaining residents. Bakeries which are the primary source of food for many Gazans, were bombed in targeted airstrikes. These actions are in keeping with Israeli Defence Minister Gallant’s declaration at the start of the war to deny the people of Gaza fuel, water, and food.


Article 14 of the Geneva Convention categorically states:


“Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited. It is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless for that purpose, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of food-stuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works.”


Even more worrying is the language used by Israel’s leaders to “wipe out” and “eradicate” Palestinians which clearly indicates genocidal intent. The crime of genocide turns on intent. Even if you kill just one child but the stated intent is “to wipe out” an identifiable group or people, in part or in whole, is a crime of genocide.


Israel’s Minister of Agriculture, Mr Avi Dichter, has been quoted saying “the military campaign in Gaza was explicitly designed to force the mass displacement of Palestinians. “We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba,” and termed the current concerning situation “Gaza Nakba 2023.” It will be recalled that the Nakba Commonly referred to as the “Catastrophe” by Palestinians, refers to the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Before the Nakba, Palestine was a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. However, the conflict between Arabs and Jews intensified in the 1930s with the increase of Jewish immigration, driven by persecution in Europe, and with the Zionist movement aiming to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.


The notion of Israel’s right to defend itself through military means has been used erroneously by some, and deliberately by others to justify the unlawful use of force by Israel on the people of Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank. South Africa is of the view that Israel as an occupier, does not have the ‘right to defend itself’ using military means. This fact has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice. An occupying state cannot exercise control over territory it occupies and simultaneously militarily attack that territory on the claim that it is “foreign” and poses an exogenous national security threat.


South Africa emphasised in its oral hearings and continues to do so that a State’s right to self-defence can never include acts of genocide.


South Africa concurs with the assertion that due to the fact that Israel’s prolonged occupation, subjugation, denial of socio-political and economic rights to Palestine is unjust and does indeed equate to a ”nightmare”. It is one of the root causes of instability in Israel and Palestine and the Middle East region.


We believe that South Africa made a compelling case before the Court that it indeed has prima facie jurisdiction, that the rights claimed by South Africa are at the very least plausible, that there is a link between the rights whose protection is being sought and the measures requested, that there is a risk of irreparable prejudice, and that there is an element of urgency.


The 26 January 2024 ruling marked a decisive victory for the international rule of law and a significant milestone in the search for justice for the Palestinian people. In a landmark ruling, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined that Israel’s actions in Gaza are plausibly genocidal and indicated provisional measures on that basis. For the implementation of the international rule of law, the decision is a momentous one.


This year Rwanda marked 30 years since the 1994 genocide and the overarching theme was “this must never happen again”. Reflecting on the remembrance of the Rwandan genocide, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote that, “it is because of our stated commitment to never again allow atrocities of this kind, that the world cannot stand idly by as another genocide is carried out, this time against the people of Palestine in the besieged Gaza Strip. Nobody can claim ignorance about what is happening in Gaza, because, unlike in Rwanda in 1994, these atrocities are being televised, written about, tweeted and live streamed.” President Ramaphosa added that, “It should never be, and must never be, that atrocities, gross human rights violations and genocide should somehow carry less weight because of the race, ethnicity or religious affiliation of the victims. We owe it to the victims of all the world’s genocides to not betray their memories by looking away, by failing to act, or worst of all, by claiming we didn’t know.”


The veto power wielded by individual states cannot be permitted to thwart international justice, not least in light of the ever-worsening situation in Gaza brought about by Israel’s acts and omissions in violation of the Genocide Convention.


Third States are now on notice of the existence of a serious risk of genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza. They must, therefore, also act independently and immediately to prevent genocide by Israel and to ensure that they are not themselves in violation of the Genocide Convention, including by aiding or assisting in the commission of genocide. This necessarily imposes an obligation on all States to cease funding and facilitating Israel’s military actions, which are plausibly genocidal.


The South African Government made an urgent request to the ICJ on 12 February 2024 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. South Africa is gravely concerned about the unprecedented imminent military offensive against Rafah, which will undoubtedly 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.


While Israel continues with its plausible genocidal acts in complete disregard of the provisional measures of the International Court of Justice, we intend to continue amplifying the calls for a ceasefire, and to do everything within our power to preserve the existence of the Palestinian people as a group, to end all acts of apartheid and genocide against the Palestinian people, and to walk with them towards the realisation of their collective right to self-determination, for, as Nelson Mandela momentously declared, “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.


The ICJ’s ruling on South Africa’s urgent request of 6 March 2024 for further provisional measures to prevent Israel from causing irreparable harm to the rights invoked by South Africa under the 1948 Genocide Convention in respect of the ongoing siege of Gaza, has once again been ignored by Israel and its allies, including the UN Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 2728, which demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza during the holy month of Ramadan. Unfortunately, Israel has not complied with this resolution in breach of Article 25 of the UN Charter, which clearly articulates the binding nature of Security Council Resolutions.


South Africa welcomes the support expressed by several countries, with whom we share a devastating past of international crimes. South Africa believes that addressing the root causes of the Israel-Palestine conflict is vital for a lasting political solution. As such, we are hopeful that the resumption of the current ceasefire negotiations will be crucial in ending the ongoing hostilities in Gaza. In this regard, the parties should approach these talks with a spirit of compromise and put the lives of all Palestinian and Israelis at the centre of these negotiations.


It is hoped that the successful conclusion of these negotiations will create momentum for the resumption of a comprehensive peace process and a negotiated settlement towards a two-state solution, which this Assembly and the Security Council has recognised in its resolutions.


Allow me to close by expressing that the system of global governance as we know it is facing serious challenges. As members of the international community, we cannot be spectators of impunity and blatant disregard for international law and the UN Charter by some while civilians perish. Turning a blind eye to the deteriorating global peace and security situation weakens the very international norms and standards that all UN Member States have committed themselves to. Prolonging this has serious consequences for the multilateral system, undermining the credibility of the existing security architecture and threatening to reverse the gains made in the past 78 years to bring about peace.


Given the current trajectory of events, the possibility of establishing a viable, contiguous Palestinian State is systematically being eroded and impacted by the unilateral illegal, unjust, and unethical policies that have resulted in the current adverse developments on the ground. South Africa asserts that the world must act immediately to end the genocide unfolding in Gaza.


South Africa reiterates its call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and remains committed to seeing an end to the occupation of Palestine and calls for concrete action concerning ending the Apartheid system in Israel and Palestine.

Thank you.




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