What to Know About the International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ highest judicial body, held two days of hearings this week in a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

Here’s what to know about the court and the case:

What is the court?

The court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, was established by the founding charter of the U.N. in 1945 to settle disputes between its member states. Also known as the World Court, the I.C.J. is one of the U.N.’s six main bodies, which include the General Assembly and the Security Council.

The I.C.J. typically has a panel of 15 judges who are elected by the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council. In this case, Israel and South Africa have each appointed an additional judge to sit on the bench on their behalf.

How is it different from the International Criminal Court?

The International Criminal Court is also located in The Hague, but is a distinct court that tries individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The I.C.C. opened an investigation into allegations of war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza and the West Bank in 2021, and has said it will also investigate more recent allegations of war crimes since Oct. 7, including the killings of journalists.

Israel is not a member nation of the I.C.C. and does not recognize its jurisdiction, so the impact of its investigation is unclear. But both Israel and South Africa are signatories of the Genocide Convention, which paved the way for the case now before the I.C.J.

What comes next in the genocide case?

After two days of public hearings concluded on Friday, with South Africa presenting its case and Israel making its defense, the judges will deliberate behind closed doors. A final ruling will likely take years to come, but the court could issue a decision sooner, perhaps within weeks, on an interim measure seeking to stop Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza within weeks.

The decisions are legally binding with no possibility of appeal, but the court has few means of enforcing them.

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