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A Call to Conscience: “We Cannot Be Complicit In Genocide”

In the wake of the ICJ ruling, Madeleine Rees, WILPF Secretary General, issues a resounding call with a focus on the plight of the Palestinians and the implications of the ICJ decision, Madeleine urges the world to reject complicity and silence in the face of grave injustices. In this blog, we delve into the profound message of accountability, global responsibility, and the urgent need for collective action to prevent further suffering.

Image credit: WILPF UK
Madeleine Rees
29 January 2024

On Friday, we celebrated the return of international law as a means of protection against the horrors of State violence. When politics failed us, Law finally stepped in and we all owe a debt to South Africa for having brought it back! We have a rules-based order, or we do not.

Now we know.

If there was one thing in all the measures that just about every sentient being could have gotten behind is that we have to stop the starvation, mutilation, killing by preventable disease and all the other deprivations of the means of survival being visited upon the Palestinians at the hands of Israel and their supporters. The order of the court was clear: 

“take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”.

It was a measure that the Israeli judge on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) agreed with 15 of his fellow judges.

The practical implications of this should be that:  

  • Israel must immediately reverse its policy to deprive Palestinians in Gaza of water and electricity, both of which constitute ‘urgently needed basic services’. Additionally, given the damage caused to the water and electricity infrastructure, the requirement that the measures be effective requires Israel to facilitate repair to such infrastructure to ensure that Palestinians can access and benefit from those basic services. 
  • Israel must also ensure that communications, including digital, are not disrupted.  Digital/satellite technologies constitute ‘urgently needed basic services’ not least for emergency services operating in Gaza but also for the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance. This will also require Israel to facilitate repair to such infrastructure to ensure that Palestinians have access to and benefit from communication services.    
  • Israel must also take immediate and effective measures to ensure the provision of food, fuel, medical aid, warm clothing, and temporary shelters to Palestinians in Gaza.  Each of these constitute urgently needed basic provisions, the continued denial of which would bring about the physical destruction of the Palestinian population in whole or in part.
  • Given the scale of need, Israel must take proactive steps to immediately and effectively facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance by the international community and humanitarian organisations.  This requires Israel not to impede in any manner, including through delay, such humanitarian assistance and delivery.
  • Unhindered delivery and distribution of basic services and humanitarian assistance is conditioned on the safety and well-being of those providing such services, aid, and assistance.  In practice, this requires the parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire.   

The practical implications are clear.

But just hours after the ICJ ruling 9 States – US, Canada, UK, Finland, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland – against the will of most decent thinking people, have decided to be complicit in the genocide. We know that that has not been legally determined as yet, but the court has ruled that it is plausible that it is happening and surely the decision to de-fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) moves the dial towards that finding. We know it when we see it!

How dare those States decide to enable Israel to continue its slaughter? It is illegal. The pretext is that some employees of UNRAW were involved in the devastating attacks on Israel on the 7th of October. Philippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA chief, took immediate action to address the claim and dismissed those accused; that hasn’t happened, ever, even when UN troops and staffers have been accused of extremities of violence, rape, and trafficking. There are 13,000 UNRWA employees who provide crucial humanitarian assistance to 2 million out of 2.3 million Palestinians who live in Gaza. Without them, the situation for Palestinians in Gaza would be even more deadly. It is indeed collective punishment of the Palestinians to deprive UNRWA of the vital funds needed to provide some element of relief. It is beyond words that the so-called democratic states, who claim to champion human rights, decide to cripple an entire organisation of the UN with devastating consequences. Directly going against the ICJ ruling. Some States are suggesting that they will simply divert their funding to other organisations providing Aid. They clearly have no idea as to the realities on the ground. Without UNRAW the coordination, the delivery and access are absolutely compromised.

The de-funding of UNRWA by these 9 States does not only affect the lives of the Palestinians. Although, that is more than enough. We are watching the destruction of the post-World War II consensus. The destruction of the political bodies of the UN, from the abuse of power by the veto wielding States of the P5 to a refusal to act on resolutions of the General Assembly, to the growing politicisation of the Human Rights Council. The list is long.

The decision to de-fund UNRWA seems to be a retaliation for the ICJ ruling. The role of the UN in its monitoring and reporting role played a huge role in the ICJ case: objective, legally based and with priorities of protection and redress, for both Israelis slaughtered on the 7th of October and Palestinians suffering collective punishment and, yes let’s call it: the genocide!

There should be consequences for those making the decisions to continue the killing. The Genocide Convention and the case law are clear.

Art 16 of articles on State Responsibility:

‘A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so if:

  1. That State does so with knowledge of the circumstances of the internationally wrongful act; and
  2. The act would be internationally wrongful if committed by that State’

The United States, The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Finland, Australia, and Canada should be on notice that they could be joined as named parties to the ICJ case, they could be challenged in domestic courts, individual decision makers could, at some point, face criminal charges including at the International Criminal Court. But all that will take time and in the interim, the failure to uphold the law ensures the deaths of thousands more Palestinians.

Everyone and anyone in those countries who are violating the decision of the ICJ should act: write, call, text, whatever you need to do but contact your political representative, your newspapers, and whomever has or could influence the decisions that have been made and demand that not only law, but decency, morality and common values must prevail. We cannot be complicit in genocide.

Madeleine Rees
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Madeleine Rees

Madeleine Rees is a British lawyer and Secretary-General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), a role she has held since 2010. For most of her adult life, Rees has worked nationally and internationally to advance human rights, eliminate discrimination, and remove obstacles to justice. As Secretary-General of WILPF, Rees is leading the organisation’s efforts to work through national and international legal frameworks to advance a future of human security and justice for all.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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