To prove genocide before the UN’s highest court, “convincing evidence” is needed, says Joly

Mickey Djuric and Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

Posted on Friday, January 12, 2024 12:00 pm EST

Last updated Friday, January 12, 2024 5:55 pm EST

OTTAWA – Canada’s foreign minister says there is a high legal threshold to prove genocide allegations, although the Liberal government is not taking a clear position for or against South Africa’s case against Israel before the highest court in the United States. United Nations.

“We will closely follow the proceedings of the South Africa case at the International Court of Justice,” Joly wrote in a statement released Friday, days after peer countries intervened in the case in more definitive terms.

Lawyers for South Africa argued in court on Thursday that Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip and its siege of Palestinians living in the territory “are genocidal in nature.”

Israel, a Jewish state founded after the Holocaust, has vehemently denied the allegations. Israel took the rare step of collaborating with the court, which is based in The Hague, to defend its international reputation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Friday that South Africa may not have met the requirements to establish that a genocide is occurring.

Neither Trudeau nor Joly were specific about what Canada would do if the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of South Africa’s claims.

“Canada is involved in five cases at the ICJ because we believe in its importance as an institution,” Trudeau said during a news conference in Guelph, Ont.

“But our unconditional support for the ICJ and its processes does not mean that we support the premise of the case presented by South Africa.”

In a statement following Trudeau’s remarks, Joly noted that the 1948 Genocide Convention defines the crime as the intention to destroy a group in whole or in part, because of its nationality, ethnicity, race or religion.

“Reaching this high threshold requires compelling evidence,” he wrote.

He also warned that the case could lead to hate crimes.

“We must ensure that the procedural steps in this case are not used to foment anti-Semitism and target Jewish neighborhoods, businesses, and individuals,” he wrote. “At the same time, we will continue to oppose Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment.”

South Africa has asked the international court to order Israel to stop its attacks, which began after Hamas militants killed 1,200 people in Israel on October 7, including hundreds of civilians. About 240 more people, including some children, were taken hostage.

Israel responded with airstrikes and restricting access to crucial supplies in Hamas-controlled territory, where local authorities say more than 23,200 Palestinians have been killed. A week-long ceasefire in November led to the release of 100 hostages to Israel.

Canada has repeatedly said that all parties in the Middle East must respect international law, and Joly said a month ago that he would support “any form of accountability system” to determine whether Israel had violated global rules.

Mark Kersten, a criminology professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, said the government is using “hesitant language” to avoid taking a stance on the case that could further divide the Liberal caucus and the Canadian electorate.

“It’s the classic statement of the Liberal government, that in a sense it has something for everyone, but not everything for everyone,” he said.

He was relieved that Ottawa did not follow the lead of the United States, which deemed the case “baseless” and “baseless” before hearings began Thursday, and was glad that Ottawa did not challenge the court’s jurisdiction.

“It’s much more measured,” said Kersten, who researches international tribunals. “In my opinion, this could have been much worse.”

Germany came out against South Africa’s case on Friday, saying there is “no basis” for a genocide charge against Israel.

Some advocacy organizations interpreted the liberals’ statements as a rejection of the South African case.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it was “beyond disappointed” with Trudeau’s response, arguing that it did not support the principles of humanitarianism and accountability.

“This indicates a lack of support for Canada’s commitment to international law.”

The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it was glad to see Trudeau’s initial statement, but hoped Joly had clearly rejected “the defamatory accusations of genocide against Israel.”

Ahead of Trudeau’s news conference on Friday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre accused the prime minister of playing to both sides of the issue.

“He says whatever you want to hear, and then he goes to another group and says the exact opposite,” Poilievre told reporters Friday in Winnipeg.

Conservatives oppose the case, which Poilievre said is “a brazen and dishonest attack on the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”

The Conservatives made no additional comments after Trudeau and Joly intervened.

The federal New Democrats had urged Canada not to intervene in opposing the case and to echo France in saying it would support whatever verdict the court issued.

Members of Trudeau’s Liberal caucus have expressed a variety of opinions on the issue, with some siding with South Africa and others with Israel.

On Friday, Montreal MP Anthony Housefather thanked Trudeau for his stance, noting that both he and Toronto MP Marco Mendicino – former Public Safety Minister – have said that “the claim that Israel is committing genocide is unfounded and unconscionable.” “.

“I am very pleased that Prime Minister Trudeau has made it clear that Canada does not support the premise of South Africa’s claim to the ICJ,” Housefather wrote.

Kersten said he is relieved that Canada has not challenged the court itself, nor suggested it would ignore a ruling, both of which could delegitimize an institution it turns to in the fight for justice in Syria and Myanmar.

“It would have undermined Canada’s standing or reputation, when it comes to supposedly being a beacon of this rules-based international order,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2024.

– With files from The Associated Press

Leave a Comment