Yonela Diko20 January 2024 | 9:25

YONELA DIKO: South Africa at the ICJ - Punching above our weight for justice of all mankind

Human rights have always been the lens through which we see all our global interaction and no economic gain would ever come at the expense of this firm and guiding light, writes Yonela Diko.

YONELA DIKO: South Africa at the ICJ - Punching above our weight for justice of all mankind

The International Court of Justice, which has its seat in The Hague, is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Picture: https://www.icj-cij.org/home


Over the years, South Africa has shown great moral courage to fight against all injustices in defence of the poorer countries of the world. We have fought for poor indebted countries to be relieved of their heavy and mostly unjustified debts; we fought for the relaxation of patents for Aids drugs, and we have fought for fairness of trade in favour of the countries of the South in all World Trade Organisation trade rounds.

We have come to establish ourselves as ‘bridge-builders' between the powerful North and the emerging Global South. When the world wanted to embark on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, we were instrumental in that cause. We championed the banning of landmines and the elimination of conflict diamonds through the Kimberley Process, and we encouraged many countries to be party to the Roman Statute of 1998.

Nelson Mandela always reminded us that ‘human rights will be the light that guides our foreign policy’ and even as we sat in international organisations such as G20, IBSA and BRICS, G77, UNSC, human rights have always been the lens through which we see all our global interaction and no economic gain would ever come at the expense of this firm and guiding light.

We have always punched above our weight on the global stage for justice for all people of the world.

And the past week has brought South Africa back into its rightful place as a 'middle power' - sending a delegation of some of its top legal minds to the highest court in the world to bring the state of Israel in front of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for its atrocities against the oppressed people of Palestine.

In a world where countries' sense of morality is tied to their economic interests, South Africa stands as a beacon of hope for all the vulnerable people of the world. 

In a world where countries' governments and media have a symbiotic relationship that pushes government biases and moral bankruptcy down the citizens' throats, the South African government stands as a custodian of all that is right and just in the world.

In a world where countries are afraid to speak their truths to preserve their economic relationships with those who violate human rights and those who aid them, South Africa stands as a bulwark for moral courage and moral cover for all citizens of the world.

South Africa knows that Israel has powerful friends - the United States and the United Kingdom, and these are also our friends, but no friendship should ever allow or expect one to turn a blind eye to injustice. 

Former Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Lindiwe Sisulu in 2018 said: "We want South Africa to be once again a moral compass and a voice of reason in a world increasingly overcome with selfish, narrow interests".

And that is what we stand for - human rights.

South Africa is accusing the Israeli government of committing genocide in its assault on Palestinians in Gaza.

The Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” When both the acts and intent have been established, then such a state or group can be found guilty of genocide.

While the African National Congress (ANC) rightfully condemned Hamas for their October 7 attack on Israelis, South Africa stated in its submission that “[n]o armed attack on a state’s territory no matter how serious, even an attack involving atrocity crimes can, however, provide any possible justification for violations of the Genocide Convention."

South Africa's A-Team of Lawyers, delivered on all the areas of law to satisfy articles of the convention. Genocidal intent was established along with acts of genocide, urgency and potential irreparable harm; and it is hoped the court will act with a great sense of urgency in favour of the people of Palestine. 

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, in his opening remarks at the ICJ rightfully invoked Nelson Mandela in his timeless words: “In extending our hands across the miles to the people of Palestine, we do so in the full knowledge that we are part of a humanity that is at one.” 

South Africa was clear in its presentation in front of the ICJ that the country stands against injustice, whoever it's committed against.

Ironically, the UN Convention on Genocide was formed in direct response to the killing of approximately 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime and the global community wanted to prevent a recurrence of such atrocities. 

Today, it is Israel that is killing and destroying a substantial part of Palestinian national and ethnic groups in Gaza.

The courts cannot turn its back on the truth.

It is much of the world's hope that the court will find in favour of justice and declare a ceasefire and save the lives of Palestinians.

Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson for the ANC in the Western Cape.