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African Union delivers Oral Statement before the International Court of Justice for Palestine

6 March 2024

On February 26 the African Union (AU) intervened before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in proceedings lodged by the United Nations General Assembly requesting the Court to opine on the legal status of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, and the legal consequences resulting from this legal status.

The AU’s oral pleadings were delivered by Prof. Hajer Gueldich, Legal Counsel of the Union serving as Agent in these proceedings, and by Prof. Mohamed Helal, Member of the African Union Commission on International Law. They were assisted by a team of legal experts, including Amb. Mohamed Salem Khalil, Senior Legal Officer, AU; Prof. Makane Moïse Mbengue, Professor of International Law at the University of Geneva; Tafadzwa Pasipanodya, Partner at Foley Hoag LLP; Damien Charlotin, Research Fellow at HEC Paris; Karim M’ziani, Associate at Foley Hoag LLP; and Meseret Fassil, Associate Legal Officer, AU.

More than 50 States and international organisations, including several African Member States, have intervened in these oral proceedings. The AU – being among the last participants to speak – was able to offer a summary of the emerging consensus about the questions before the Court, while providing a much-needed African perspective on these issues, reflecting the statements and resolutions of the African Union.

In the initial segment, Prof. Gueldich emphasized the necessity of addressing the inquiries posed by the General Assembly within the context of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine – and notably the murderous campaign of devastation currently ongoing in Gaza. The AU explained that Israel’s treatment of the Gaza population is the consequence of decades of breaches of international law designed to increase Israel’s control over the territories to which the Palestinian People, and the Palestinian State, are entitled.

The AU emphasized its obligation to intervene in the proceedings on behalf of Member States that, like Palestine, have endured grave injustices such as colonialism, racial discrimination, and apartheid. This commitment is supported by the AU's confidence in the ICJ, based on its previous involvement in cases such as the Court's Advisory Opinion on the Chagos Archipelago. The AU highlighted the significant influence of the ICJ on global legal matters and expressed deep concern for Palestine's suffering, particularly in Gaza. It also praised South Africa's unwavering commitment to justice and humanitarian principles, drawing parallels with its historical struggle against apartheid.

Professor Helal, for his part, offered the Court guidance on several issues that had been salient in these oral proceedings. He notably confirmed that Israel lacked any title over the occupied territories and could not justify its unlawful annexation and use of force by an alleged right of self-defence. Moreover, the AU clearly stated the inexorable conclusion that the occupation by Israel is unlawful under international law, and must cease as rapidly as possible, to enable the Palestinian People to exercise their fundamental right of self-determination.

As a regional body representing 55 Member States with shared struggles akin to those of the Palestinian people, the AU emphasized the imperative of its participation in assisting the ICJ. Additionally, it reiterated its support for the UN General Assembly's efforts in seeking a resolution, advocating for an end to illegal settlements and respect for Palestinians' right to self-determination under international law.

The African Union concluded its oral statement with the hope that, with the help of the Court, justice – denied for so long – will ultimately prevail.

African Union Commission

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