UNESCO Chair welcomes Order made by the International Court of Justice.

Published: 29 January 2024

The Order represents one of the ways in which the mission of UNESCO may be fulfilled

Statement from UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and Arts -

January 29th 2024

“If wars are made in the minds of people then it is in the minds of people that the defences of peace must be constructed” (UNESCO).

The UNESCO Chair at the University of Glasgow welcomes the Order made by the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Friday 26th January, but with a heavy heart.

The Order represents one of the ways in which the mission of UNESCO may be fulfilled. Peace cannot be constructed as a defence if there is a ‘plausible risk of genocide’ and so it is that preventative actions are incumbent both on the State of Israel at this moment and also on those who are party to the ‘Genocide Convention’. This includes the UK.

The ICJ found by 15:2 (it requires a majority; this was not a split decision) that South Africa’s Application to Institute Proceedings is valid, has standing and that their evidence does demonstrate that there is a ‘plausible risk of genocide’ against Palestinian People in Gaza and that the Palestinian People constitute ‘a group’ for the purposes of the Genocide Convention.

The Order they have made (see attached paragraph 86)– to stop killing the group, to prevent serious bodily or mental harm against the group, to stop inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; to stop imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group – is binding on all Parties to the Convention. There is also a requirement to punish and prevent incitement to genocide and to repot and monitor.

This Order has profound implications for us as scholars and public servants. A trial is now underway, it will be years before a full determination is realised as to whether the actions constitute genocide, but there is – in the Court’s words – ‘a plausible risk’ and under the Convention we are bound to act.

For the work of the UNESCO RILA Chair the Order is highly specific both to those we have worked with for 15 years in Palestine and in now destroyed Universities in the Gaza Strip, but also through the ‘Refugee Question’ it poses. 81% of those living in the Gaza Strip are refugees, according to UNRWA, so the plausible risk of genocide, which the Order of the ICJ seeks to prevent, is also against a category of people who are overwhelmingly refugees. The Order has been made, it is binding and cannot be appealed, at a time when, as the Order makes clear, there has been ‘massive displacement’ inside Gaza and it is estimated that 1.7 million of the 2.23 million have now been displaced in Gaza at least once.

It is not possible to consider the existential question of what it means to live as a refugee without considering the historical and enduring genesis of the modern understanding of the refugee, under the Refugee Convention. The founding of the State of Israel and creation of a Nakba – a catastrophe – for the Palestinian people, enduring for 75 years, is a generative and evolving state of being and it is incumbent upon us, as holders of the only UNESCO Chair in the world bearing the questions of refugee integration in its name, to remain focused on this work in its educational, scientific and cultural dimensions. This includes consideration of justice, the language and the arts of justice for refugees and the responses of states who are party to the care of those seeking refuge.


On 9th October 2023 and then further on 17th October 2023 the UNESCO Chair at the University of Glasgow made statements warning of the risk and appealing for the due process of justice to be followed. The calls in our own statements mirror those of the ICJ in substance. The Chair welcomes the Order and the vindication of its position, in raising concern at the plausible risk of genocide.

It is now incumbent upon parties to the Genocide Convention to begin taking firm actions. This is not optional, but binding.

Universities, Cultural and Scientific Organisations, together with religious institutions have a clear role in education and representation and can help educate and chart a road out of the present perilous and abyssal situation.

It is vital that the plausible risk of complicity in genocide is addressed and that changes are made. To this end the UNESCO Chair calls, with the UN Secretary General, for an immediate reinstatement of the funding for UNRWA, by the UK Government. Furthermore, the UK Government should utilise all available means to pursue an end to the catastrophic war by calling for an immediate ceasefire and ensuring the guaranteed release of all captives.

First published: 29 January 2024