ICJ judge Sebutinde says Israel leaders' ‘we will eliminate everything’ speeches were misunderstood

29 January 2024 - 18:03
Ugandan-born ICJ judge Julia Sebutinde, who has been a member of the court since 2012 and was re-elected in February 2021, is in the spotlight in the SA vs Israel case.
Image: ICJ Ugandan-born ICJ judge Julia Sebutinde, who has been a member of the court since 2012 and was re-elected in February 2021, is in the spotlight in the SA vs Israel case.

International Court of Justice (ICJ) judge Julia Sebutinde, in her dissenting opinion against the court's ruling on the Israel genocide charge, says public statements made by Israeli leaders about the war against Hamas in Gaza, contained in the main judgment, were misunderstood and taken out of context. 

Sebutinde voted against all emergency measures ordered by the world court for Israel to undertake in South Africa’s application against the Jewish state which it accused of committing genocide against Palestinians after the attacks by Hamas in Israel on October 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and more that 250 kidnapped. 

The court’s main judgment contained quotes by Israeli leaders and listed statistics of civilian fatalities of more than 25,700 (not independently verified), thousands injured and about 1.7-million people displaced. In consideration of these factors and others, the court found some of South Africa’s claims that Palestinians needed protection were “plausible”.    

ICJ president judge Joan Donoghue on Friday read several of the quotes, including: Minister Yoav Gallant stated, speaking to Israeli troops on the Gaza border, 'I have released all restraints ... You saw what we are fighting against. We are fighting human animals. This is the Isis of Gaza. This is what we are fighting against ... Gaza won’t return to what it was before. There will be no Hamas. We will eliminate everything. If it doesn’t take one day, it will take a week, it will take weeks or even months, we will reach all places'.”

South Africa, during oral presentations earlier this month, argued the statements, including that of Gallant, showed genocidal intent by the Israeli government against Palestinians in Gaza. 

Sebutinde said the Israeli leaders were misunderstood and the statements were directed to Hamas. 

“A careful examination of those statements, read in their proper and full context, shows South Africa has either placed the quotations out of context or simply misunderstood the statements of those officials.”

Most of the statements referred to the destruction of Hamas and not the Palestinian people.

“Certain renegade statements by officials not charged with prosecuting Israel’s military operations were subsequently highly criticised by the Israeli government itself.

“More importantly, the official war policy of the Israeli government, as presented to the court, contains no indicators of genocidal intent. In my assessment, there are also no indicators of incitement to commit genocide.” 

The Ugandan-born judge's dissenting opinion has become controversial with some people calling her biased on social media and others seeing her as the “only” fair judge at the world court. The Ugandan government has distanced itself from her dissenting opinion. 

The government said: “The government categorically clarifies the position taken by judge Sebutinde is her individual and independent opinion and does not reflect the position of the government of Uganda.” 

Read Sebutinde's dissenting opinion here.


WATCH some statements by Israel leaders that South Africa argued showed genocidal intent;