In the expected upcoming case, where South Africa accuses Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, if South Africa wins and the court rules to stop the war, how can such an order be enforced?

  • I wonder whether such a court decision would make a (unilateral or multilateral) armed intervention legal. That may actually be a separate question, possibly on Law SE. Commented Jan 8 at 12:09
  • I asked about that here. Commented Jan 8 at 12:49

4 Answers 4


It cannot. If it determines that a genocide is taking place, it can order it to stop. But even then it cannot order, or interfere, in a state action such as a war.

It can resolve legal disputes between nations and issue advisory opinions between states which submit to its jurisdiction.

But stopping wars(as opposed to war crimes) is simply outside of its jurisdiction.


Such an order cannot be enforced as the global polity has no enforcement powers. The UN does have peace-keeping forces but these are usually deployed as part of a peace process brokered by states. It's inappropriate here.

However, it will have an important advisory effect on international bodies as well as states. This can be seen by the fact that only the US has come out publically to denounce the suit. The rest of the international community will wait to see what the court's final judgement is.

  • And peacekeeping operations usually require the approval of the Security Council, where the US would veto any move against Israel.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 9 at 9:43

Most of the world's states are parties to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. States are obliged not only to not commit genocide, but also to prevent and punish genocide. According to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this obligation has extraterrestial scope. That is, if Israel is guilty of genocide, most states must interfere and must bring Israeli war criminals to justice. The latter could, for example, be implemented as an international criminal tribunal similar to the one who adjudicated cases concerning the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides. For stopping the ongoing genocide - if Israel is found guilty - the world could put sanctions on Israel, attack it militarily (the UN Security Council could authorize the use of force against Israel like it did against Iraq in 1990 by adopting resolution 678), or arm the Palestinian resistance. Stopping a genocide is a clear casus belli.

Here is an interview with international law professor Francis Boyle about the ICJ case. He says the same things I wrote about but fills in many details I missed. Clearly, the US would exercise its veto power to block any enforcement attempt through the Security Council (SC), which precludes the authorized use of force. However, Israel could be suspended from United Nations activities by the General Assembly (GA) if it invokes the 1950 United for Peace resolution. Both South Africa and Yugoslavia have previously been suspended that way. The GA can also establish a war crimes tribunal without the SC's involvement.

  • I like the mentioning of the convention, but I wonder what "states are obliged" really means? Can they also, for example, decide to do nothing at all, if they wanted to and still remain signatories to the convention? Also, in the past how often did something similar happen, for example attacking a convicted country and using that as casus belli. Further I wonder if casus belli are still a big thing. It seems a bit as if countries simply attack whenever they want to (see Russia in Ukraine for example). Commented Jan 8 at 19:19
  • The UN security council can do nothing because the US will veto any action.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jan 8 at 20:24
  • 1
    States are obliged in the same way people are obliged to pay taxes on their income. International law contains no formalized penal code but other states can still subject a violating state to various sanctions. The Yazidi genocide has been cited as a pretext for the use of force against ISIS. Commented Jan 8 at 23:58

As far as I understood:

  • it can't be directly enforced
  • it could be major reason for UN SC sanctions aka "really working" kind. IF USA at least abstain from voting on this issue

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