ICJ ruling puts current global order on trial | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

ICJ ruling puts current global order on trial

/ 05:02 AM February 24, 2024

When Israel’s onslaught on the Gaza Strip began and became more violent, with thousands of Palestinians killed as retribution for the Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, the word “ceasefire” became a contentious one among Israel’s allies. Even as majority of the world voted for an immediate ceasefire at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in December, the United States and the United Kingdom opted for the more feeble term “humanitarian pause.”

It seems there is no end to the unwavering support for Israel from its closest friends, just as there is no end to Israel’s appetite for violence, with the most recent death toll in Gaza surpassing 29,000. Against this backdrop, the failure of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to call for a ceasefire in its order of Jan.

26, 2024, can seem disappointing. In the case against Israel filed by South Africa for violating the Genocide Convention, the first of nine provisional measures that South Africa requested was the immediate suspension of Israel’s military operations. Although the ICJ did not include this, a closer reading of its statements makes it clear that the court has taken a much stronger stance than Israel and its allies would have liked. In the order, the court referred to statements from UN agencies and officials to acknowledge the bombardment of civilians in Gaza, even in places that were designated as safe zones. It noted the attacks on medical facilities, the critical condition of the health system in Gaza, an unfolding public health disaster, lack of sanitation, the traumatization of an entire generation of Palestinian children, and extreme deprivation of food causing extreme hunger.

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At this stage, it is not for the court to rule on whether Israel is committing genocide or even to confirm jurisdiction, but to only confirm that conditions exist for the awarding of provisional measures needed to prevent irreparable harm. The fact that considerable space was dedicated to creating an official record of the atrocities being committed against the Palestinian people is important, especially since Israel’s propaganda machine, with the help of its Western allies, has been working overtime to convince the world that Israel is simply “defending itself.”

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In broad terms, the ICJ’s provisional measures require Israel to prevent acts that constitute genocide, prevent and punish incitement to commit genocide, provide urgent humanitarian assistance in Gaza, preserve evidence related to allegations of genocide, and report back to the ICJ within a month. While it is obvious that Israel will reject its responsibility for the actions of its military and for ensuring humanitarian assistance, the main question now is to what extent the ICJ order will create pressure on Israel’s allies. Will nations like the US and UK, which provide weapons and other military assistance to Israel, take steps regarding their complicity in facilitating this genocide?

Previously, similar rulings against Myanmar, Russia, and Syria have been backed by most Western governments. Yet, almost immediately after this particular ruling, at least nine countries, including the US, UK, and Germany, decided to pause funding to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees over allegations that 12 of their staff might have been involved in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. Such action in the midst of a humanitarian crisis seems more like collective punishment than a reasonable response.

At such a critical moment, when we are waiting to see if some of the world’s most powerful nations will respect the authority of the international justice system when an ally is in the docks, it is deeply concerning that they would choose to express this lack of trust in the UN, instead of getting behind its apex court. Israel’s allies, particularly the US, will now be under even more scrutiny over double standards when it comes to international human rights and justice.

Now is a good time to remember that the UN and its organs, including the ICJ, are products of the two world wars, created at a time when the world was tired of bloodshed and intent on creating some sort of global order that would prevent such atrocities from occurring again. Regardless of how flawed these institutions are, they reflect a certain acceptance of a universal standard of human rights, and a shift away from the politics of brute force and power. The US and its allies, with their dead-set support for Israel, are now not only putting their reputations on the line; they risk making these institutions obsolete and threatening the entire post-1945 international order. The Daily Star/Asia News Network

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Shuprova Tasneem is a writer and commentator with an interest in gender justice and global politics. Her X handle is @shuprovatasneem.

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The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of the Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 media titles in the region.

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TAGS: Israel, opinion

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