Respecting International Law

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Canada has always prided itself on its adherence to international law. Canada has supported the last 3 cases against genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the world’s highest court of law. These cases involved Bosnia vs. Syria (1993), The Gambia vs. Myanmar (2020), and Ukraine vs. Russia (2023). We are on record in each of those cases as strongly opposing genocide and advocating for respect for the international rule of law as expressed through the ICJ.

We are a States Party to the Genocide Convention (1948) along with Israel and 151 other countries. Adherence is so widespread it is considered “international customary law”, binding on all states, whether they have ratified it or not. Canada’s response needs to be consistent, supporting the Provisional Measures Order made by the ICJ on January 26, 2024, against Israel, with respect to South Africa’s complaint of Israeli genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.

The order does not call for a ceasefire as the more than 2,000 organizations supporting South Africa’s complaint had hoped. Those organizations represent ½ billion people from nearly 100 countries. (Marjorie Cohn, former head of US National Lawyer’s Guild, Codepink, 16 January, 2024.)

But the order does require Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent:

  1. killing members of the group (Palestinians);
  2. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and
  4. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Further, Israel must:
  5. take all measures to prevent and punish direct and public incitement to genocide; and
  6. implement immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance in Gaza; and
  7. report to the ICJ in one month on its compliance with the Order.

The ICJ also called for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages still held in Gaza.

Michael Lynk, Law Prof at Western, former UN Special Rapporteur for Palestinians, said that in his view, there is no way Israel can comply with the terms of the Order without a ceasefire. (Canadian Foreign Policy Institute Press Conference January 26, 2024.)

Every country who is party to the Genocide Convention will be impacted by this decision, as the convention requires all States Parties to participate in the prevention and punishment of genocide. The ICJ said that South Africa has made the required “plausible case” of genocide by Israel vs. Gaza, so that is why they made the Provisional Measures Order. The decision “on the merits” respecting the claim of genocide will take several years, and all States Parties are invited to send legal arguments to inform the Court.

The next step is for the ruling to go to the UN Security Council for enforcement, where the US will no doubt veto any resolutions arising from it. Then the matter will go the UN General Assembly who can take action, including calling for sanctions against Israel. Israel will experience a “mobilization of shame” from the world community at the UN and “is very worried about it, because for Israel the narrative is everything”. (Marjorie Cohn, above)

Not surprisingly, the very day the ruling came down, Israel suddenly made allegations that 12 of 30,000 UNRWA employees were part of the October 7th attack on Israel, providing no proof, so now the US, UK, a few European states and compliant Canada have “paused” financial support of UNRWA, the chief provider of humanitarian assistance to Gaza. This appalling move grabbed the headlines and shows the level of callousness operating here. Israel is ordered by the world’s highest court to enable humanitarian aid to a starving, 85% homeless people and the West responds by cutting off funding for that aid. What is going on here?

As Blinne Ni Granleigh, Irish lawyer on the South African legal team, stated in her argument to the ICJ January 11, 2024, this is “the first genocide in history where its victims are broadcasting their own destruction in real time in the desperate, so far vain hope that the world might do something”. (See her on YouTube.)

Canada did not express any support for the ICJ’s ruling and instead of putting pressure on Israel to comply with the Order to allow humanitarian aid, we cut our funding to the main supplier of that aid. According to UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese, defunding UNRWA “overtly defies ICJ’s order to allow effective humanitarian assistance.”

We Canadians can do something. We can hold our government to account for its complicity in allowing this unprecedented human disaster, this huge moral failure, to continue. We can press them to reinstate, and in fact, increase UNRWA funding, call clearly for an immediate ceasefire and abide fully by the ICJ Provisional Measures Order. This is the true test of our humanity and our respect for international law.