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Former top Hague judge: Media wrong to report court ruled ‘plausible’ claim of Israeli genocide

The court ruled that “there was a risk of irreparable harm to the Palestinian right to be protected from genocide,” Joan Donoghue said.

Joan Donoghue, judge and president of the International Court of Justice, briefs reporters at U.N. Headquarters on Oct. 28, 2022. Credit: Loey Felipe/U.N. Photo.
Joan Donoghue, judge and president of the International Court of Justice, briefs reporters at U.N. Headquarters on Oct. 28, 2022. Credit: Loey Felipe/U.N. Photo.

Media reports that the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel was “plausibly” accused of genocide are inaccurate, Joan Donoghue, a judge and former president of the main U.N. judicial arm in The Hague, said in an interview with the BBC on Thursday.

The court never decided that South Africa’s claim that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza was “plausible,” despite an avalanche of media reports to that effect and a slew of diplomats, who interpreted the court’s ruling that way.

“I’m glad I have a chance to address that because the court’s test for deciding whether to impose measures uses the idea of plausibility. But the test is the plausibility of the rights that are asserted by the applicant, in this case South Africa” she told the BBC show HARDtalk. 

“The court decided that the Palestinians had a plausible right to be protected from genocide and that South Africa had the right to present that claim in the court,” Donoghue said. “It then looked at the facts as well. But it did not decide—and this is something where I’m correcting what’s often said in the media—it didn’t decide that the claim of genocide was plausible.”

“It did emphasize in the order that there was a risk of irreparable harm to the Palestinian right to be protected from genocide,” she added. “But the shorthand that often appears, which is that there’s a plausible case of genocide, isn’t what the court decided.”

Donoghue’s term on the bench expired a few days after the court delivered its initial ruling on Jan. 26.

Following the ruling—and what the judge called the misreported “shorthand” in the media—Israel was widely accused of genocide and lawsuits charged other countries with abetting Israeli genocide or failing to stop the Jewish state from committing genocide.

After a follow-up South African case, the U.N. court instituted provisional measures on March 28 that ordered Israel to ensure without delay that humanitarian assistance was being scaled and sped up in its delivery to Gaza.

It also ruled that Israel must ensure that the Israel Defense Forces avoids violating the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, including by preventing the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The U.N. high court has yet to rule on South Africa’s initial claim that Israel is committing genocide. It is not expected to do so for months.

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