The Australian government has been “put on notice” by several human rights organisations following the top UN court ruling that South Africa’s accusation Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people is “plausible”.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has warned the Israeli government must do everything in its power to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza.
It was among several other preliminary orders issued by the court.
When asked whether he welcomed the ICJ ruling, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia was not a party to the process.
“We’ve made very clear our position, which is that every human life matters, whether it be Israeli or Palestinian,” Mr Albanese said.
The Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ) said the prime minister’s response was an attempt to hide from his government’s duty, with executive director Rawan Arraf warning the federal government does not get to “escape its obligations” under the Geneva Convention and international law.
“This decision has triggered obligations on all high contracting parties to the Geneva Convention to act on their duties to prevent genocide, which the court said the Palestinian population in Gaza was at a serious risk of suffering from,” Ms Arraf said.
The Gazan Health Ministry says at least 26,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began bombing the besieged territory in response to the October 7 Hamas attack which the Israeli government says killed about 1,139 people on and saw 250 taken hostage.
Doctors Without Borders has warned that Gaza no longer has a functioning healthcare system, with its largest remaining facility unable to provide vital medical services.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin said the ICJ ruling would not impose an immediate ceasefire and impede Israel’s campaign to “rescue hostages and destroy Hamas”.
“The fact that Hamas has welcomed the ruling shows at whose behest and for whose benefit these proceedings were brought,” Mr Ryychin said.
A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia’s position on the war in Gaza remained clear and consistent and she noted the “decisions of the ICJ are binding on the parties to a case”.
“Australia respects the independence of the International Court of Justice and the critical role it plays in upholding international law and the rules-based order,” Senator Wong said.
“We have consistently urged all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, advocated for humanitarian access, and called for civilians to be protected and hostages released.”
Australian government ‘put on notice’
Handing down the interim judgement, ICJ president Joan Donoghue labelled the humanitarian situation in Gaza “catastrophic”.
Last month, Australia joined 152 other nations in backing a non-binding United Nations resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire, after abstaining from a similar vote in October.
Amnesty International Australia campaigner Nikita White said Australia had a clear duty to ensure the measures outlined by the ICJ ruling were implemented.
“The Australian government should signal their respect for the court’s legally binding decision and do everything in Australia’s power to uphold their obligation to prevent genocide, and take urgent steps to prevent ongoing international crimes, including by imposing a comprehensive arms embargo,” Ms White said.
Ms Arraf, of the Australian Centre for International Justice, said the federal government should actively review its economic, trade and military ties with Israel to ensure it was not “aiding and abetting the potential crime of genocide”.
“The Australian government should ensure that any of its citizens serving with the Israeli military are investigated in Australia for any commission of international crimes,” Ms Arraf said.
The Greens have also called for the government to formally intervene at the International Court of Justice on behalf of South Africa and to implement sanctions on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his cabinet.
“Governments, including Australia, now have an obligation to act. Labor must stop backing the invasion and pressure the Israeli government to end the invasion and end the occupation,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.
The International Court of Justice yesterday refused to throw out the genocide case as Israel’s lawyers had requested. It will now begin considering South Africa’s application in depth, which could take several years.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the ruling was a step toward justice despite frustrations from the Palestinian community that it did not explicitly call for a ceasefire.
“We, as South Africans, will not be passive bystanders and watch the crimes that were visited upon us being perpetrated elsewhere. We stand on the side of freedom for all. We stand on the side of justice,” Mr Ramaphosa said.
Australia pauses UNRWA funding over October 7 allegations
Meanwhile, the Australian government has announced it will temporarily pause disbursement of recent funding to the UN Palestinian refugee agency after Israel alleged its staff were involved in the October 7 Hamas attack.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) said it had severed ties with those staff members while it was investigating the allegations.
Senator Wong said Australia would engage closely with the organisation, acknowledging it was providing “vital, life-saving” services in Gaza.
“Australia welcomes UNRWA’s swift response and will engage closely on investigations,” she said.
“Australia will continue to support the people of Gaza and work to provide humanitarian assistance. We reiterate our calls for civilians to be protected, and for humanitarian assistance.”
During her trip to the Middle East earlier this month, Senator Wong announced Australia would commit $21.5 million in humanitarian support to Palestinians in Gaza and abroad, $6 million of which will go to the UNRWA.