Gaza Session at ICJ today.. Judges in South Africa’s Case

While the International Court of Justice considers the case of condemning Israel for genocide in Gaza, here are the judges of the court.

International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will hold today the first public hearing of the lawsuit filed by the State of South Africa against Israel, after it accused of committing genocide against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

On December 29th, South Africa filed a lawsuit against Israel, the occupying power, against the backdrop of its involvement in “acts of genocide” against Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

In the application submitted to the International Court of Justice, South Africa requested “indication of interim measures in order to protect against further serious and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people under the Genocide Convention, and to ensure Israel’s compliance with its obligations under the Convention not to engage in, prevent and punish genocide.”

South Africa’s move comes in the wake of the martyrdom of more than 22,000 citizens, most of them women and children, in the ongoing Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip since last October 7.

*How do the courts function?

The ICJ is composed of 15 judges, including a president and a vice president, elected by the UN’s General Assembly and Security Council.

Elected for a 9-year term, these judges are eligible for reelection.

The ICC, on the other hand, has 18 judges, who are elected by the member states.

The court carries its investigation in cases through the office of the prosecutor, which is currently being headed by lawyer Karim Khan.

*Who are members of the ICJ?

For the ICJ, only member states of the UN are eligible to appear before the court.

Currently, around 193 states are members of the UN, as article 93, paragraph 1, of the Charter of the United Nations provides that all “members of the United Nations are ipso facto parties to the Statute.”

The ICJ seeks to settle disputes between countries, if they voluntarily participate in the proceeding, and then are bound to follow with the decision of the court.

The ICJ says that it has no jurisdiction to entertain requests from individuals, NGOs, corporations, or private entities.

*Who are members of the ICC?

The ICC has 123 members, which are state parties to its Rome Statute. Out of them, 33 are African countries, 19 are Asia-Pacific nations, 18 are from Eastern Europe, 28 are from Latin American and Caribbean states, and 25 are from Western European and other states.

Countries such as the US, Israel, and Russia are not members of the ICC.

The ICC looks into the crimes that were committed on or after July 1, 2002, the day when it was established.

The member countries can refer cases within their own jurisdiction to the court, or the UN Security Council can refer or the prosecutor can launch an “on one’s own initiative.”

The ICC has the jurisdiction to investigate non-member states if the offensives took place on the state parties’ territories.

*What cases has the ICJ handled?

The ICJ has looked into over 190 cases, according to its official website.

Some significant cases include Nicaragua v. United States of America, when in 1986, the ICJ ruled that the US had violated international law and supported rebel groups against the Nicaraguan government. The US refused the court’s ruling, and vetoed “enforcement action” when the decision was sent to the Security Council.

Another prominent case was when in 1993, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina instituted proceedings against Yugoslavia for crimes of genocide.

Neighboring countries have also gone to the ICJ regarding their border disputes. In 2021, the ICJ determined the maritime boundary between Somalia and Kenya.

*What cases has the ICC handled?

According to the ICC website, there have so far “been 31 cases before the Court, with some cases having more than one suspect.”

ICC judges have issued 40 arrest warrants, the website says. Most of those indicted have been from African countries.

Around 21 people have been detained in the ICC detention center and have appeared before the court, including Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia.

Another 15 people remain at large. Charges have been dropped against seven people due to their deaths.

In 2023, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin, declaring that he is responsible for the war crime of forcibly deporting and transferring children from occupied Ukrainian territory to Russia.

The Russian government refused to accept the decision, saying that it does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction.

A prominent case referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council was of Muammar al-Gaddafi, who was accused of killing civilians during the Arab Spring protests.

An arrest warrant was issued but was withdrawn after the former Libyan strongman was killed in 2011.

The ICC has also issued arrest warrants for former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of “genocide and war crimes.”

Another former president, Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo, was arrested on ICC warrants in 2011 on charges of murder, rape and other crimes, but was acquitted by the court in 2019.

*As of 19 August 2023, the composition of the court is as follows:

President Joan Donoghue (United States), Peter Tomka (Slovakia), Ronnie Abraham (France), Mohamed Bennouna (Morocco), Abdelqawi Ahmed Yusuf (Somalia), Xue Hanqin (China), Julia Sebutinde (Uganda), Dalveer Bhandari (India) ), Patrick Lipton Robinson (Jamaica), Nawaf Salam (Lebanon), Yuji Iwasawa (Japan), George Nolte (Germany), Hilary Charlesworth (Australia).

*Most prominent judges:

  • Joan E. Donoghue (United States): Donoghue is the current president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). She was first elected to the court in 2010, re-elected in 2014, and elected by the ICJ judges to be president of the ICJ in 2021.
  • Hilary Christiane Mary Charlesworth (born 28 February 1955) is an Australian international lawyer. She has been a Judge of the International Court of Justice since 5 November 2021, and is Harrison Moore Professor of Law and Melbourne Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne, and Distinguished Professor at the Australian National University.
  • Ronny Abraham (born 6 September 1951) is a French academic and practitioner in the field of public international law who was elected to the International Court of Justice, to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of judge and former President Gilbert Guillaume. He served the remainder of Guillaume’s which ended on 5 February 2009, and was reelected for a term extending to 2018.
  • Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf: He is a Somali lawyer and judge serving on the International Court of Justice since 2009. He served as the court’s president from 2018 to 2021.
  • Mohamed Bennouna (born 29 April 1943) is a Moroccan diplomat and jurist. He worked as a Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Since 2006, he is a judge of the International Court of Justice.
  • Nawaf Salam (born 15 December 1953) is a Lebanese diplomat, jurist, and academic. He was elected on 9 November 2017 as judge on the International Court of Justice for the 2018–2027 term, having received a concurrent majority of votes in the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. He served as Lebanon’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York from 2007 to 2017, during which period he held the positions of President of the Security Council and Vice President of the General Assembly.