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South Africa’s delegation to the Hague: Opening Remarks by H.E. Mr Ronald Lamola, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services of the Republic of South Africa, 11 January 2024

Image courtesy of the International Court of Justice (https://www.icj-cij.org/multimedia-cases)

  1. Madam President, “In extending our hands across the miles to the people of Palestine, we do so in the full knowledge that we are part of a humanity that is at one.” These were the words of President Nelson Mandela1 . This is the spirit in which South Africa acceded to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“the Convention”) in 1998 2
  2. This is the spirit in which we approach this Court. As a contracting party to the Convention, this is a commitment we owe to all, Palestinians and Israelis alike.
  3. As previously mentioned, the violence and destruction in Palestine and Israel did not begin on 07 October 2023. The Palestinians have experienced systemic oppression and violence for the last 76 years, on 6 October 2023 and every day since October 7th.  In Gaza, at least since 2005, Israel continues to exercise control over the airspace, territorial waters, land crossings, water, electricity and civilian infrastructure3 , as well as over key governmental functions 4.  Entry and exit by air and sea to Gaza is strictly prohibited with Israel operating the only two crossing points. Given that continuing effective control by Israel over the territory, Gaza is still considered by the international community to be under belligerent occupation by Israel 5.
  4. South Africa unequivocally condemned the targeting of civilians by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups and the taking of hostages on 7 October 2023, and has again expressly recorded this condemnation, most recently in its Note Verbale to Israel of 21 December 2023.
  5. That said, no armed attack on a State’s territory no matter how serious — even an attack involving atrocity crimes — can provide any justification for, or defence to, breaches of the Convention, whether as a matter of law or morality.  Israel’s response to the 7 October 2023 attack has crossed this line and gives rise to breaches of the Convention.
  6. Faced with such evidence, and our duty to do what we can to prevent genocide as contained in Article 1 of the Convention, South Africa initiated this case.
  7. South Africa welcomes the fact that Israel has engaged with the case, in order to have the matter resolved by the Court, after careful and objective consideration of the facts and submissions put before it, as the Parties to the Genocide Convention intended.
  8. This hearing is concerned with South Africa’s request to the Court for the indication of provisional measures and will necessarily have a narrow and particular focus.
  9. South Africa’s case will be presented by team of six Legal Counsel, comprising Dr Adila Hassim, Mr Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, Professor John Dugard, Ms Blinne ni Ghrálaigh, Mr Max du Plessis, and Professor Vaughan Lowe.
    1. Dr Adila Hassim, Senior Counsel, will provide an overview of the risk of genocidal acts and the perpetual vulnerability to acts of genocide;
    2. Mr Tembeka Ncgukatoibi, Senior Counsel, will examine Israel's alleged genocidal intent;
    3. Professor John Dugard, Senior Counsel, will focus on prima facie jurisdiction;
    4. Professor Max du Plessis, Senior Counsel, will discuss the various rights currently under threat;
    5. Ms Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, King's Counsel, will present the argument of urgency and potential irreparable harm, and
    6. Professor Vaughan Lowe, King's Counsel, will speak on provisional measures.

I now ask the Court to call on Dr. Hassim.

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1. Address by President Nelson Mandela at International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People, Pretoria (4 December 1967), http://www.mandela.gov.za/mandela_speeches/1997/971204_palestinian.htm.  

2. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (adopted 9 December 1948, entered into force 12 January 1951), 78 UNTS 277.

3. GOV.UK, Guidance Overseas Business Risk: The Occupied Palestinian Territories (22 February 2022), https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/overseas-business-risk-palestinian-territories/overseas-business-risk-the-occupied-palestinian-territories, para. 2.5.

4. See e.g., United Nations Security Council resolution 1860, The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, S/RES/1860 (8 January 2009), http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/1860; United Nations General Assembly Res 77/30, Assistance to the Palestinian People, A/RES/77/30 (6 December 2022), https://undocs.org/A/RES/77/30; UN HRC, Human rights situation in Palestine and the other occupied Arab territories, Report of the detailed findings of the independent international Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, A/HRC/40/CRP.2 (18 March 2019), https://undocs.org/A/HRC/40/CRP.2; UNSC Res 2720, The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, S/RES/2720 (22 December 2023), https://undocs.org/S/RES/2720(2023).

5. See e.g., UNSC Res 1860, The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, S/RES/1860 (8 January 2009), https://undocs.org/S/RES/1860(2009) where the Security Council stressed “that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967 and will be a part of the Palestinian state”. Recently reaffirmed in UNGA Res 77/30, Assistance to the Palestinian People, A/RES/77/30 (6 December 2022), https://undocs.org/A/RES/77/30. See also, UN HRC, Human rights situation in Palestine and the other occupied Arab territories, Report of the detailed findings of the independent international Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, A/HRC/40/CRP.2 (18 March 2019), https://undocs.org/A/HRC/40/CRP.2. UNSC Res 2720 The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, S/RES/2720 (22 December 2023), https://undocs.org/S/RES/2720(2023) stresses that “the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967” and reiterates “the vision of the two-State solution, with the Gaza Strip as part of the Palestinian State”.

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