Belgium provides International Court of Justice with its interpretation of genocide

Belgium wants to be heard in the case brought by South Africa against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over whether Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib said on Monday.

On 29 December, South Africa filed a complaint against Israel for "genocide" in Gaza with the ICJ, the United Nations judicial body responsible for settling disputes between countries. It cited the 1948 Genocide Convention, which gives states the right to take legal action to prevent genocide.

Prevent and punish genocide

The Convention requires signatories to take measures to prevent and punish genocide. These obligations, along with the prohibition of genocide, are considered norms of customary international law and are binding on all states, whether or not they are among the 153 countries - including Israel - that have ratified the Convention.

Lahbib said in a statement that, on 7 February, the ICJ sent a letter to the countries that are parties to the Convention, including Belgium, informing them that its interpretation could be at stake.

"Belgium wishes to participate and share its interpretation of Article 2 of the 1948 Convention"

"Belgium wishes to participate and share its interpretation of Article 2 of the 1948 Convention," which explains in detail how the concept of genocide should be understood. "It is not a question of taking sides for or against one party or the other, but of strengthening the universal character of the international conventions to which states are parties."

Respect for international law

The specific content of this Belgian intervention, which may still be months away, has yet to be developed. Lahbib insists that Belgium will stress the importance of respect for international law.

She also favours intervening in the other case pending before the ICJ, involving Gambia and Myanmar, "just as we intervened in the case between Ukraine and Russia concerning the interpretation of the same convention".


Palestinians mourn a family member who was killed in Israeli strikes on the makeshift Al-Mawasi camp for displaced people, 10 March 2024 © PHOTO AFP

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