The UN’s top legal body — the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — that heard two days of powerful legal argument from South Africa against Israel on the crime of all crimes: genocide, is not the only legal body hearing a case of genocide. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is suing the Biden administration in federal court for its complicity in the war in Gaza by supporting Israel, a state that stands accused of an attempt to “destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part,” as defined by the 1948 Convention on Genocide.
Biden Administration Lawsuit
If you follow news about Palestine (and if you watch something other than mainstream US news), you’ll know about South Africa’s ICJ case. However, you may not be aware that the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has sued the Biden administration in US federal court for violating the genocide convention by failing to prevent genocide and instead actively supporting it.
Let’s take – a quick look at this case.
👉 Who are the plaintiffs?
The CCR is suing on behalf of a group of Palestinian individuals and organizations, including Palestinian Americans and people in Gaza. The organizations include Defense for Children International — Palestine and Al Haq, and the individuals include Ahmed Abu Artema, who started the 2019–2019 Great March of Return protest movement. All of the individuals have had family members killed in Israeli attacks.
👉 Who are the defendants?
The lawsuit accuses President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Austin, in their official capacities.
👉 What is the dispute about?
The plaintiffs say that the Biden administration has enabled Israel to commit genocide, in violation of international customary law and US law, causing direct harm to the plaintiffs and their families. Actually, in its most recent filing, the CCR says that one of their plaintiffs themselves may have been killed in Gaza since the case was filed. The Biden administration has moved for dismissal, saying that this issue is a political question and cannot be decided by the courts.
👉 What law does the CCR say the Biden admin is breaking?
The complaint is that the defendants have “violated their duty under customary international law, as part of federal common law, to take all measures within their power to prevent Israel from committing genocide.” Confused? Stick with me.
The US is a common law system, meaning that the law isn’t just the statutes in the US code; what’s more important is the precedent of past legal decisions and established legal principles. All this precedent and tradition together is called common law.
Customary international law is defined as “international obligations arising from established international practices”; prohibition of genocide and failure to prevent genocide, as one such established practice, was also codified in the UN Genocide Convention. Customary international law is part of common law and can be enforced in federal courts.
👉 What is CCR asking the court for?
The “relief” (action) requested by the plaintiffs is basically just that the defendants stop supporting genocide in Gaza through diplomatic, military, and financial assistance. They are also seeking injunctive relief, which is basically the equivalent of the ICJ’s “provisional measures — Biden et al. must stop their violation of international law immediately while the case is pending, because allowing the attacks to continue for years while the case is decided is too risky.
👉 How has Biden responded?
The Biden administration’s lawyers have moved for the case to be dismissed because they say the court can’t act on political issues. Their response doesn’t address the genocide claims at all and uses only procedural arguments.
You can access all the case files in a very well-organized page on the CCR’s website. https://ccrjustice.org/home/what-we-do/our-cases/defense-children-international-palestine-v-biden