Letter to Minister Joly: Canada must support South Africa's ICJ application to prevent genocide in Gaza

Montreal, January 4, 2024 - CJPME has sent the following letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly urging Canada to support South Africa's application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to prevent genocide in Gaza.

Click here to download the full letter as a PDF

Dear Ms. Joly,

I am writing to you on behalf of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) to urge the Canadian government to support South Africa’s application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to protect Palestinians from genocidal actions by Israel.[1] This should include supporting South Africa’s request for urgent provisional measures from the ICJ to end Israel’s military operations in and against Gaza, and bringing an end to the bloodshed and devastation.

As of writing, more than 22,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in Gaza, 70% of them women and children, while Israel’s withholding of water, food, fuel, and electricity has put the entire population at serious risk of mass deaths from famine, dehydration, and disease. This is a situation that is getting worse every day, and requires concrete action from the international community to prevent further mass atrocities. We therefore welcome South Africa’s intervention at the ICJ, which we believe deserves Canada’s full support.

As a State party to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (‘Genocide Convention’), South Africa has invoked the convention to initiate proceedings against Israel, another State party, based on its obligations to prevent and punish genocide. Initial public hearings have been scheduled for January 11 and 12, 2024, and Israel has announced that it will participate.

South Africa’s 84-page application to the ICJ substantiates two grave allegations: first, that Israel has “failed to prevent genocide and has failed to prosecute the direct and public incitement to genocide”; and second, that “Israel has engaged in, is engaging in and risks further engaging in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza.” These acts include killing Palestinians in Gaza, causing them serious bodily and mental harm, and inflicting on them conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction. Such acts are alleged to be “genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group, that being the part of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip.”

While a final judgement on the merits of the charge of genocide will be years away, South Africa is requesting as a “matter of extreme urgency” a series of provisional measures that would apply immediately and extend for the duration of the trial. These measures include the immediate suspension of Israel’s military operations against Gaza, an end to Israel’s mass displacement of the population of Gaza, and an end to Israel’s deprivation of food, water, and other essential supplies to that population.

Despite Canada’s current opposition to a pending ICJ advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT),[2] it has enthusiastically supported the role of the ICJ in many other recent contexts, including with direct relevance to the proceedings initiated by South Africa. In this respect, I note that in November 2023, Canada submitted a joint Declaration of Intervention with the UK, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and France in support of The Gambia’s application on genocide against Myanmar.[3] In that Declaration, Canada argued that evidence of genocide can include “a violent military operation triggering the forced displacement of members of the targeted group,” as well as “subjecting a group of people to a subsistence diet, systematic expulsion from homes and the induction of essential medical services below minimum requirement.” Canada also submitted that the definition of genocide is “not limited to killings and that the number of victims killed is not determinative of a State’s specific intent.” If we apply this same standard to evaluate Israel’s conduct, it is evident that South Africa’s claims of genocide are eminently plausible – which is the test for the indication of provisional measures by the ICJ – and deserve a hearing on the merits by the Court.

I also note that the provisional measures requested by South Africa appear to align with principles already expressed by the Canadian government itself in respect of the situation in Gaza, including an end to the killing of women and children and unrestricted humanitarian access. Unfortunately, these statements have done nothing to modify Israel’s behaviour, which has only become more belligerent. If Canada is serious about bringing a sustainable end to the violence, and if it is to remain consistent with its own legal position articulated in The Gambia v. Myanmar, it should put its full weight behind South Africa’s application to the ICJ.

As a signatory to the Genocide Convention, Canada has an obligation and a duty to prevent and punish the crime of genocide wherever it occurs. South Africa’s application to the ICJ has brought forward an urgent and compelling case demonstrating that Israel is committing acts of genocide right now against Palestinians in Gaza. Canada can intervene in the proceedings as a State party in support of South Africa, either now or during potential proceedings on the merits.

Therefore, I strongly urge Canada to make a brief formal submission to the ICJ indicating its support for the South African application against Israel. Canada’s submission should emphasize its respect for the Court, and demonstrate that it is aware of its responsibilities under the Genocide Convention to take all reasonable steps to prevent genocide.

If a brief formal submission by Canada at this stage of the proceedings is not possible, I would urge Canada to issue a public statement in support of the South African application against Israel, as has already been done by Malaysia, Turkey and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Finally, if for some reason Canada chooses not to support South Africa’s application, I urge you to ‘do no harm’ to the effort to hold Israel accountable, and at the very least refrain from taking any action to oppose or undermine South Africa’s efforts to seek redress for the genocide unfolding in Gaza.

I once again request a meeting with you to discuss Canada’s approach to the ICJ and other urgent matters. I look forward to hearing from you.


Michael Bueckert, PhD

Vice President

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East




Rob Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in New York City

Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group

Michael Chong, Conservative Foreign Affairs critic

Heather McPherson, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic

Stéphane Bergeron, Bloc Québécois Foreign Affairs critic
Elizabeth May, Co-Leader of the Green Party

Lisa Stadelbauer, Ambassador of Canada to Israel
David Da Silva, Representative of Canada to the Palestinian Authority


[1] ICJ, “Application instituting proceedings and request for the indication of provisional measures,” Proceedings instituted by South Africa against the State of Israel on 29 December 2023, https://www.icj-cij.org/case/192

[2] CJPME Position Paper, “Canadian Diplomacy and Justice for Palestinians,” December 14, 2023, https://www.cjpme.org/pp_2023_12_accountability

[3] ICJ, “Joint declaration of intervention of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom,” Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (The Gambia v. Myanmar), November 15, 2023, https://www.icj-cij.org/case/178