South African High Commissioner defends ICJ initiative, calls on Trudeau government to “examine conscience”

By Dave McKee  

South Africa’s High Commissioner to Canada, Rieaz (Moe) Shaik, on January 10 defended his country’s request for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to declare Israel in breach of its obligations under the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention).

Speaking at a press conference jointly organized by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and Just Peace Advocates, Shaik also said that each country, including Canada, “must examine its own conscience to determine their contribution to our shared humanity.” Many in attendance understood this comment to be a diplomatically worded call for the Trudeau government to support South Africa’s ICJ initiative, as an obligation under the Genocide Convention which Canada has signed.

The Canadian government has so far refused to endorse South Africa’s case, despite having backed similar initiatives including ones concerning Myanmar and Russia

Shaik was joined at the press conference by Mona Abuamara, Ambassador and Chief Representative of the Palestinian General Delegation to Canada, as well as legal experts and others.

Abuamara said that January 11, when the ICJ will consider South Africa’s request, was “a historical day for Palestine.” She also spoke about Israel’s use of “self-defence” as an excuse for its current genocidal siege of Gaza and for other acts of aggression against the Palestinian people. Specifically, she referenced a 2004 decision of the ICJ which found that Israel’s construction of the “apartheid wall” was not necessary for its security and that “Israel could not rely on a right of self-defence or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall.”

Referring to Canada’s position on South Africa’s submission, Abuamara stated that “history will remember where people where and what people did.”

Other speakers were Canadian documentary filmmaker Avi Lewis, Palestinian human rights advocate Wesam Ahmad and Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University.

Falk said that South Africa’s initiative provides Canada with “a great opportunity, as well as a moral and legal responsibility, to act.” Noting that all of the countries supporting the case are from the Global South, he pointed to the “striking contrast” between the reactions to Israel’s siege of Gaza and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Falk described the urgency of political pressure for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal, saying that “Israel’s only option is to widen the war” by drawing in Iran and others to provoke increased Western involvement.

Ahmad said that South Africa’s initiative “provides hope that international law and institutions can function if there is political will to make it happen.” He described the case as “not just about Israel, but about the international system.”

Lewis called on anyone who rejects the ICJ submission to “engage with the evidence,” which overwhelmingly points to the reality of genocide. He spoke directly to the Canadian government’s ongoing support for Israeli apartheid, saying there is “an absolute legal and moral obligation to step in” and calling on Canada to “stop the genocide now.”

At the beginning of the press conference, moderator Bianca Mugyenyi announced the release of a public statement calling on Canada to support the Gaza genocide case at the ICJ, which had been signed by 150 peace, legal, civil rights, and labour and professional organizations, as well as over 1000 civil society leaders and legal experts.

[Photo: Screen capture of video conference with South African High Commissioner to Canada Rieaz (Moe) Shaik and Mona Abuamara, Ambassador and Chief Representative of the Palestinian General Delegation to Canada]

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