Libya files intervention in South Africa’s ICJ genocide case against Israel

Libya filed a declaration of intervention Friday before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) the case concerning the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel) now underway in the UN’s principal court.

Libya stated that it filed the declaration because it believes Israel has been engaging in genocide against Palestinians in Gaza since October 7, 2023 and failing to prevent and prosecute the direct and public incitement to genocide. Libya emphasized the Genocide Convention’s significance, noting the ICJ has recognized the prohibition of genocide as a jus cogens norm in international law. Libya’s intervention focuses on the proper interpretation of provisions outlining the duty to prevent and not commit and genocide, and the duty to punish it, as stipulated in Articles I, II, III, IV, V, and VI of the Convention.

As a party to the Genocide Convention since 1989, Libya’s decision to intervene carries weight because Article 63 of the ICJ Statute grants states parties to a convention the right to intervene in proceedings concerning its interpretation. If they intervene, the Court’s judgment on interpreting that convention becomes equally binding upon them. Moreover, Libya’s intervention is noteworthy given the country’s challenges with armed groups since Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster in 2011 and the escalating human rights violations against migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in Libya.

This case was initiated in December 2023 when South Africa filed an Application instituting proceedings against Israel concerning alleged violations by Israel of its obligations under the Genocide Convention in relation to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. South Africa says that Israel’s conduct towards Palestinians in Gaza breaches its obligations under the Genocide Convention. The Application also sought provisional measures to safeguard Palestinian rights under the Convention and ensure Israel’s compliance. On March 28, 2024, the Court indicated provisional measures, ordering Israel to prevent “plausible” genocide in Gaza, prevent displacement and loss of life in Palestine, desist from inciting genocide, and punish such incitements, among other directives.

On Friday, South Africa filed an urgent request with the Court for further provisional measures and modification of those previously prescribed. South Africa argues that the earlier measures “are not capable of ‘fully address[ing]’ the changed circumstances and new facts” underpinning its request, citing “the situation brought about by the Israeli assault on Rafah, and the extreme risk it poses to humanitarian supplies and basic services into Gaza.”

Libya is not the sole state to intervene in the South Africa v. Israel case. On April 5, 2024, Colombia, a party to the Genocide Convention since 1959, filed a declaration of intervention, likewise invoking Article 63 of the ICJ Statute. Colombia stated its genuine belief that state parties to the Genocide Convention should do everything in their power to contribute to ensuring the prevention, suppression, and punishment of genocide, and therefore, assist the Court in establishing any state party’s failure to comply with its Convention obligations.