UK says it has ‘considerable concerns’ about ICJ ruling, rejects genocide accusation

London says legal action ‘not helpful in goal of achieving a sustainable ceasefire,’ joining Washington, which rejected allegations as ‘unfounded’

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on January 23, 2024, after attending a weekly Cabinet meeting. (Daniel Leal/AFP)
Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on January 23, 2024, after attending a weekly Cabinet meeting. (Daniel Leal/AFP)

The British government said Saturday it had “considerable concerns” about a ruling by the United Nation’s top court that Israel should do everything it can to prevent any acts of genocide in Gaza.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on Friday handed down its first judgment in a case brought by South Africa that also ordered Israel to allow humanitarian access to the Palestinian territory, but did not call for a ceasefire.

“We respect the role and independence of the ICJ. However… we have considerable concerns about this case, which is not helpful in the goal of achieving a sustainable ceasefire,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said in a statement.

“Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas in line with IHL [international humanitarian law],” the spokesperson added.

“Our view is that Israel’s actions in Gaza cannot be described as genocide, which is why we thought South Africa’s decision to bring the case was wrong and provocative.”

South Africa has accused Israel of breaching the 1948 UN Genocide Convention — set up in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust — during its military campaign in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 atrocities in southern Israeli communities.

The Foreign Office, however, added that it welcomed the ICJ’s call for the immediate release of hostages and to get more aid into Gaza.

“We are clear that an immediate pause is necessary to get aid in and hostages out, and then we want to build towards a sustainable, permanent ceasefire, without a return to the fighting.”

Washington also offered backing for Israel on Friday in the wake of the ICJ ruling, with a US State Department spokesperson telling The Times of Israel: “We continue to believe that allegations of genocide are unfounded and note the court did not make a finding about genocide or call for a ceasefire in its ruling and that it called for the unconditional, immediate release of all hostages being held by Hamas.”

South African, left, and Israel’s delegation, right, stand during a session at the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)

“The court’s ruling is consistent with our view that Israel has the right to take action to ensure the terrorist attacks of October 7 cannot be repeated, in accordance with international law,” the spokesperson said.

“We have consistently made clear that Israel must take all possible steps to minimize civilian harm, increase the flow of humanitarian assistance, and address dehumanizing rhetoric,” the US statement added, in an apparent reference to the court’s decision ordering Israel to take urgent steps to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza along with incendiary comments by its lawmakers.

The State Department spokesperson said the US recognizes the “vital role” that the ICJ plays in the peaceful settlement of disputes and added that it would continue to monitor the proceedings as they move forward.

Like the EU, of which Germany is a member, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that Israel “must adhere” to the ICJ’s ruling, but also said Hamas needs to release its remaining hostages.

“These [measures ordered by the ICJ] are also binding under international law.”

Judges and parties sit during a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Jan. 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)

“At the same time, the court made it clear that Israel’s actions in Gaza follow the barbaric terror of October 7, and recalled that Hamas is also bound by international humanitarian law and must finally release all hostages,” Baerbock added. “We will support this with all our might, as well as the measure ordered by Israel to urgently allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

Earlier this month, Germany announced it would intervene as a third party against South Africa’s ICJ case against Israel. Berlin is slated to present its own case to the court that Israel has not infringed the Genocide Convention and has not committed or intended to commit genocide.

Governments supportive of the Palestinian cause around the world, among them South Africa, Spain, Turkey and various Arab nations, welcomed Friday’s decision by the ICJ to proceed with the case accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza, even as The Hague panel stopped short of ordering an immediate ceasefire as many of those parties had hoped.

In its highly anticipated ruling, the ICJ ruled that at least some of Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip during the current war against Hamas appear capable of falling within the terms of the Genocide Convention and that it must therefore take a series of measures to prevent such acts, as well as prevent and punish incitement to genocide in Israel.

The ICJ did not, however, order Israel to call for an immediate unilateral ceasefire, which would have indicated that the court believes genocide is actively taking place.

The order repeated on several occasions that the decision was not a determination on the merits of South Africa’s allegations of genocide.

Along with the order to take all measures to prevent genocide against the Palestinians, the ICJ ordered Israel to ensure that the IDF does not carry out acts of genocide (15 votes to 2); that the state prevent and punish incitement to genocide against Palestinians (16 to 1); take urgent measures to alleviate the “adverse” humanitarian situation in Gaza (16 to 1); prevent the destruction of evidence related to allegations of acts genocide (15 to 2); and report back to the court in one month on the issues laid out in the order (15 to 2).

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: