(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.)

International Court of Justice Issues Provisional Measures in South Africa v. Israel Case 

On Friday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an Order granting provisional measures in South Africa’s case against Israel under the U.N. Genocide Convention. At this early stage of the proceedings, the Court did not determine whether Israel’s conduct amounts to genocide – that potential determination is left for the “merits” phase of the case, which will likely occur years from now, after Israel has the opportunity to raise “preliminary objections” to jurisdiction and the Court decides on that matter, and after both parties have filed additional briefs and other States have submitted written pleadings staking out their positions on the facts and the law. 

Rather, this week the Court held that Israel’s actions to minimize harm to civilians did not sufficiently remove the risk of irreparable harm and ordered that Israel: (1) refrain from acts under the Genocide Convention; (2) prevent and punish incitement to genocide; (3) take effective measures to allow for the provision of humanitarian assistance; (4) take effective measures to prevent destruction of evidence; and (5) submit a report to the Court on compliance with all measures within one month of the date of the Order. Notably, Israel’s ad hoc judge, Aaron Barak, voted in favor of (2) and (3), and the Court did not issue an order per South Africa’s request that “State of Israel shall immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza”  (South Africa Application, para. 144).

Note: Readers may be interested in our further coverage of the Order.

Palau Files First Instrument of Ratification for Marine Biodiversity Treaty

On Monday, Palau became the first country to ratify a treaty that aims to protect ocean waters that lie beyond national borders. The treaty – which is known as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Agreement – was finalized last year after nearly 20 years of negotiations. The treaty is the “first international legally binding instrument to conserve and sustainably manage marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction,” an area which includes more than half of the world’s oceans. The treaty establishes a procedure for creating large-scale marine protected areas and envisions a benefit-sharing regime for marine genetic resources. Since the treaty opened for signature in September 2023, it has been signed by 83 states and the European Union. The Agreement will enter into force 120 days after the sixtieth instrument of ratification, approval, acceptance or accession has been deposited. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called upon States to sign and ratify the treaty as soon as possible. 

China and Saudi Arabia Undergo Universal Periodic Reviews

China’s human rights record was examined for the fourth time on Tuesday by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group. The UPR is a regularly conducted review of the human rights records of all 193 U.N. member States. According to the Associated Press, an unusually high number of countries, 160, “some critics of Beijing, some allies… registered to take part in the discussion.” Countries including Canada, the United States, the Czech Republic, and Japan used the UPR to press China on its human rights record. Issues raised included protection of minority rights and freedom of expression. Many developing countries, including Bhutan and Iran, praised China’s work on “poverty reduction and economic development.” China’s foreign ministry said it hoped the UPR would be “constructive” and “non-politicised.” China’s U.N. ambassador indicated that concerns from other countries were caused by “misunderstanding or misinformation.” 

On Monday, Saudi Arabia likewise underwent its fourth UPR process. The delegation from Saudi Arabia highlighted over 50 reforms undertaken in favor of women, including reforms to allow women equal access to travel documents and to support gender equality in the workplace, since its last UPR in 2018. Other countries, however, highlighted ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression, the impact of male guardianship privileges on women’s rights, and the lack of protection for domestic workers, among other issues, the Associated Press reported. The United States in particular called for an investigation into allegations of killing and abuse of migrants crossing the Yemeni border. A Saudi official said that Saudi Arabia worked with the International Organization for Migration to ensure that the human rights of individuals crossing Saudi borders are upheld. Other countries, including Morocco, Bahrain, Qatar, Yemen, and China praised Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Saudi officials welcomed “the objective statements and recommendations” and indicated they would “do the utmost to put them into effect.” 

Several other countries are being reviewed through the UPR process this week, including Senegal, Nigeria, Mauritius, Mexico, Jordan, Malaysia, and the Central African Republic.

Guterres Responds to Rejection of Two-State Solution

In a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, Guterres called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of a two-state solution “unacceptable.” Guterres further said that rejecting a two-state solution would “indefinitely prolong” the conflict and “embolden extremists.” The meeting commenced a Security Council debate over aid shipments to Gaza. Guterres’ statement comes after a post by Netanyahu on X, formerly known as Twitter, which declared Netanyahu’s refusal to “compromise on full Israeli security control over all the territory west of Jordan – and this is contrary to a Palestinian state,” following talks with U.S. President Joe Biden.

On Sunday,  Guterres called the death toll in Gaza “utterly unacceptable” as Palestinian authorities announced that more than 25,000 had been killed.

Note: Readers may be interested in our Gaza coverage.

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