(Editors’ Note: This is the latest in Just Security’s weekly series keeping readers up to date on developments at the United Nations at the intersection of national security, human rights, and the rule of law.)

ICJ to Hold Hearings on Israel Genocide Case

On Thursday and Friday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held hearings on a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention in relation to Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has escalated its military activities in Gaza, which have killed more than 23,000 people, according to figures from the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health, following Hamas’ October 7th attack, which killed more than 1,200 people. South Africa’s application seeks an emergency suspension of Israel’s military campaign. Both countries are parties to the Genocide Convention, which defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” South Africa’s application instituting proceedings alleges that Israel has “failed to prevent genocide and has failed to prosecute the direct and public incitement to genocide,” and that “Israel has engaged in, is engaging in and risks further engaging in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Israel has categorically denied all charges and insists that it is prosecuting the war in line with international law and with civilian protection measures. Israeli President Isaac Herzog called the claims “atrocious and preposterous.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken labeled the allegations “meritless.”

The Court heard arguments from South Africa on Thursday, and from Israel on Friday.  The current hearings cover only the request for provisional measures and consider initial legal arguments; among other points, the Court will review whether it has jurisdiction and whether the allegations could fall within the scope of the Genocide Convention. The Court is expected to issue a decision on provisional measures in the coming weeks, while the larger case could last several years.

Note: Readers may be interested in our Gaza coverage.

Security Council Condemns Houthi Attacks on Red Sea Shipping

On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning and demanding an end to Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea. It also demanded the release of the Japanese-operated ship Galaxy Leader and its crew, which was boarded at sea on Nov. 19, 2023. The Iranian-backed Houthis, who have been engaged in a civil war with Yemen’s internationally recognized government since 2014, have launched over two dozen attacks on international shipping since the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel with the stated aim of ending Israel’s military actions in the Gaza Strip. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield also noted Iran’s role in enabling the Houthis.

The resolution, which the United States and Japan drafted, passed with an 11-0 vote in favor and four abstentions from Russia, China, Algeria, and Mozambique. Before the vote, the Security Council rejected three proposed Russian amendments respectively disclaiming the creation of new international law precedent, replacing language regarding the defense of vessels with States’ rights under international law, and language related to the conflict in the Gaza Strip, according to a press release.

On Friday, Russia called for an urgent Security Council meeting in response to more than a dozen U.S. and U.K. strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen, which Russia characterized as “irresponsible.”

Note: Readers may be interested in our Yemen coverage.

U.S. Announces U.N. Assessment Mission in Northern Gaza

After meeting with Israeli officials on Tuesday, Blinken announced an agreement to launch a U.N.-led assessment mission to eventually allow for Palestinian civilians displaced by war in northern Gaza to return home. Under the deal, Israel will allow the U.N. experts to evaluate conditions in northern Gaza for the return of displaced civilians.

As many as 1.9 million Gazans, or 85 percent of the population, have been forced from their homes by the Israeli military campaign in response to the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel, according to the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency.

Blinken criticized certain Israeli acts that “undercut Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves effectively,” such as extremist settler violence in the West Bank. and said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had assured Blinken that his government would not forcibly resettle Palestinians outside of the Gaza Strip’s borders.

Morocco Selected to Lead the U.N. Human Rights Council

In a Wednesday vote to select the next chair of the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC), Morocco’s candidate Ambassador Omar Zniber defeated his South African opponent Ambassador Mxolisi Nkosi 30-17. Because it was the Africa group’s turn to lead the HRC and its members could not decide on a single candidate, a secret ballot was held. Ahead of the vote, South Africa criticized Morocco for alleged human rights abuses in the disputed territory of Western Sahara, while Morocco denied such allegations and accused South Africa of undermining its role in the HRC. 

The diplomatic back-and-forth was a rare break in unity for the Africa group, which typically votes as a bloc. While the president’s role is mostly administrative and procedural, such as overseeing meetings, Zniber will be responsible for appointing the U.N.’s independent human rights experts. 

Note: Readers may be interested in our Human Rights Council coverage.

IMAGE: The United Nations Headquarters, in New York city, on Oct. 18, 2023. (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)