Carrots, Sticks, and the ICC: Prospects for Cooperation? Part 2

The contributions discussed in part one may be used to frame an analysis of the Court’s recent request to Belarus to cooperate in the arrest and surrender of al-Bashir. The ICC has issued two arrest warrants for al-Bashir, one in 2009 and one in 2010, for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Since the arrest warrants were issued, al-Bashir typically travels to non-states parties, who are under no obligation to arrest him. Indeed, Belarus has neither signed nor ratified the Rome Statute. However, he has also visited states partieswho do have an obligation to arrest, including (but not limited to) Chad, Kenya, Djibouti, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jordan, Uganda, and South Africa. Despite the Court’s request to these states parties for cooperationin the arrest of al-Bashir, national governments such as those of Chad, Jordan, and South Africa have refused to comply, using the justification that al-Bashir’s status as head of state provides him with immunity from arrest. This opinion is also promoted by the African Union, which has asked for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the issue of immunities of heads of state and government within the Rome Statute system.  

The relations between Belarus and Sudan are strengthening in several key areas. Al-Bashir and Belarus’ President, Alexander Lukashenko, signed agreements on ‘friendly relations and cooperation’in 2017 emphasizing dynamic trade and joint projects in the industrial and agricultural sectors. Al-Bashir’s speculated travel to Belarus is for the purpose of finalizing trade deals and enhancing bilateral relations. However, the link between the two countries is long(er)standing. Belarus is a Sudanese armament provider. In 2006, a military cooperation protocolwas signed by the two countries covering training, exchange of experiences, and military science. Belarus has a reputation as an arms exporter to rogue states. Since Belarus is under no legal obligation to cooperate with the ICC, the arrest and surrender of al-Bashir highly unlikely. The high probability that Belarus will ignore the Prosecutor’s request contributes to a culture of impunity and staunch criticism of the Court.  

Inasmuch as states pursue political and economic (self) interests, the UNSC expressed a need for accountability for the atrocious crimes committed in Darfur under the leadership of President Omar al-Bashir at the ICC. The majority of states agree that the gravity of the crimes covered by the Rome Statute are so abhorrent that they are an offence to humankind and should not go unpunished. It is necessary to question the elusiveness of state cooperation in the situation concerning al-Bashir and consider what can be done to facilitate a different, more just outcome. Relying on Belarus is insufficient without the political backing of the UNSC to oblige all member states to enforce their referral and facilitate cooperation by all states to this end.   

Political strategizing for the majority of states requires a balance of hard and soft power; this includes the promotion of international criminal justice and the use of international institutions, which creates a sense of solidarity among Member States. Expectations of behaviour establish trust. The rules-based order in the Rome Statute system contributes to a shared commitment to these goals. The referral of the situation in Sudan to the ICC by the UNSC signals that the perpetration of atrocious crimes is unacceptable, even for states who have neither signed nor ratified the Rome Statute. Appeals to sovereign power, interests, or status as a head of state are irrelevant. This could be a significant moment for the international criminal justice project, but the transfer of political power (UNSC) to legal action (ICC) has been weak and haphazard. The lack of organizational support and state cooperation to see justice done devalues international criminal law and subjects the ICC to a serious legitimacy crisis.  

The lack of credible commitment on the part of the UNSC to enforce this referral, or to provide the necessary political support has undermined (and continues to undermine) the ICC’s ability to see justice done. The UNSC has failed to take measures against states who choose not to execute the arrest warrant, which ought to be an obligation that emanates from the referral itself. The need for the UNSC to take a bigger role in the enforcement of its own resolutions remains an important focal point in the discussion on cooperation more broadly.  

The obsequious attention paid to al-Bashir and his disregard for the indictment by the ICC has led to increasing frustration on the part of those who oppose impunity and demand justice and accountability for the victims in Sudan. The role of civil society is particularly important in this regard. Depending on states such as Belarus to cooperate with the execution of an arrest warrant in the absence of political or legal obligations is fundamentally flawed. How persuasive is a sharp carrot when the states involved have the stick? 

This blogpost and my attendance to the 17thAssembly of States Parties are supported by the Canadian Partnership for International Justice and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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Call for abstracts

STUDYING WAR CRIMES:

The ethics of re-presenting mass violence in research

When do descriptions of harm become academic sensationalism rather than re-presentations of violent materialities? Can academic interest and engagement in mass harm ever avoid voyeurism? How can sensational violence be ethically re-presented in research? Across disciplines theorizing mass harm, a consensus is emerging cautioning against sensationalism in re-presentations of perpetrators, victims, crimes, and sufferings, seeing detailed descriptions of violence as academic voyeurism. Yet, how comfortable a read can research that has violent profusion at its core become, before the distance created by language becomes an ethical – and analytical – challenge in its own right?

This edited volume invites experienced scholars to address thoroughly the ethics of doing research on mass harm in general, and of re-presenting and describing mass violence, harmdoing, trauma, and suffering in their own research in particular. Drawing on a range of methodological approaches and empirical cases, the book will address how mass violence and war crimes are brought into research – both as an ethical, a sensational, and an analytical matter.

We ask contributors to reflect on their re-presentations of mass crimes, violence and justice, seeing re-presentations both as an issue to do with individual and disciplinary research ethics but also as a matter to do with power and material structures of academic knowledge production. The purpose is to encourage active engagement with a research ethics that goes beyond ‘procedural ethic;’ to expand the discussion on responsibility for the stories we hear, read, analyze, and re-tell; and to address in-depth the ethics of listening, seeing, and telling in research on mass violence and war crimes.

The book will be relevant for all researchers who wish to engage ethically with the study of mass violence and war crimes.

We invite abstracts that explore the ethics of re-presenting mass violence in research.

Abstracts may also cater specifically to:

  • The ethics of caring, seeing, listening and re-presenting
  • Selection and exclusion: whose stories are told?
  • Understanding harm/understanding as harm
  • “Thick descriptions” and sensationalism
  • Breaking the silence vs silence as choice
  • Emotions, positionality, and reflexivity

Submission guidelines:

Abstract of no more than 500 words to be submitted by November 30th, 2018 to editors at studyingwarcrimes@gmail.com. We only accept original contributions and the abstract needs to clearly demonstrate the chapter’s contribution to the volume.

Please include a 150-200 word bio highlighting your affiliation, work experience and credentials in the field of war and mass violence research.

Further process:

After an initial screening and by December 15th, 2018, editors will invite 8 contributors to develop their abstract into a full chapter (5-7000 words) to be submitted by April 15th 2019. We will apply for funding for a lunch-to-lunch workshop for contributors in May 2019. The final submission date for full chapters will be in August, 2019.

Routledge (Taylor&Francis Group) initiated our work with this collection, and has expressed a strong interest in publishing the book.

About the editors:

Sladjana Lazic is a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Peace Studies (CPS) at the Arctic University of Norway (UiT). She holds a PhD in Political Science from the Norwegian University for Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, on victims’ perspectives on transitional justice and legitimacy.

Anette Bringedal Houge holds a PhD in Criminology and Sociology of Law from the University of Oslo on conflict-related sexual violence, perpetrator re-presentations, and international criminal justice. She has published her research in e.g., Aggression and Violent Behavior, British Journal of Criminology and Criminology and Criminal Justice. Anette is the Head of Humanitarian Needs and Analysis at the Norwegian Red Cross.

Feminism and the Kenyan TJRC (Part 2)

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Women singing at the launch of the TJRC public hearings in Garissa (April 2011)               (Kenyan TJRC)

Addressing the first feminist critique – the failure to address systemic and structural violence that tends to affect women disproportionately – was easier for us to address compared to other truth commissions given our broad mandate and, in particular, the requirement that we investigate violations of socioeconomic rights. To better analyze systemic and structural issues, including those related to socio-economic rights, we needed to address effectively the second critique – the failure to encourage active participation of women, a failure that had already been experienced by the Mutua Task Force.

 

In addition to dedicating specific parts of our statement-taking form to capturing the experience of women; training our statement takers on gender sensitivity, and ensuring a high percentage of female statement takers (43 percent), we also conducted thirty-nine of what we called women’s hearings in each of the places where we held public hearings. Our challenge was not just to encourage women to participate and speak to the Commission, but also to elicit testimony about violations and related issues experienced by them. The experience of previous truth commissions suggests that women who are willing to speak about past violations tend to speak as witnesses and observers concerning incidents that happened to others, usually the male members of their family. The characterization of such testimony as indirect is itself problematic, as it tends to de-emphasize the secondary effects of violations on family members and community members and more fundamentally emphasize the individualistic, rather than community-oriented, aspect of violations. While women may testify about what happened to others in their family or community because they are reluctant to testify about themselves, they may also focus on violations directly experienced by their family and community members because they see themselves as part of those larger social entities and, thus, are more likely than men to see such violations of “others” as affecting them, their families, and their communities directly. Nevertheless, we were concerned that some women might feel reluctant to share their own direct experiences of violations out of fear rather than because they adopted a more holistic approach to violations and their effects.

In addition to holding women’s hearings in each place where we held public hearings, we often had a prominent woman activist from each community testify about the experience of women generally in that community. We were able to do this in part because of the strong working relationship we had developed with Maendeleo ya Wanawake, the largest women’s membership organization in Kenya. We were thus able to explore at the local level some of the broader systemic, institutional, and cultural issues faced by women. To further broaden this analysis, we devoted one of our national thematic hearings to women. The purpose of the thematic hearing was to supplement the individual stories we had heard in the field – both from witnesses as well as local activists – with a more national and even international perspective on the broader systemic issues facing women in Kenya. Continue reading

Feminism and the Kenyan TJRC (Part 1)

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Commissioners Tecla Namachanja and Margaret Shava at the launch of public hearings in Garissa (April 2011)       (Kenyan TJRC)

In 2004 a task force chaired by Professor Makau Mutua travelled throughout Kenya to determine whether a truth commission should be established to address historical injustices.  In their report, the task force observed that while their provincial hearings were “on the whole” well attended, the number of women participating in the hearings was “low.” The experience of the Mutua task force mirrored that of truth commissions generally. Female participation in truth commission processes worldwide has been low, leading more recent truth commissions to create special units to encourage the participation of more women. Kimberly Theidon discusses attempts to incorporate a greater gender sensitivity to transitional justice processes, focusing in particular on Peru.

 

Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke pose three sets of questions as part of a feminist critique of transitional justice generally.  First, where are women (both representation and participation in transitional justice design and process)? Second, Where is gender (where are the voices and experiences of women with respect to conflict, human rights violations and justice)? Third, where is feminism (referring to the feminist critique of justice and its applicability to transitional justice)?

Feminist critiques of truth commissions tend to focus on two issues. First, truth commissions ignore or do not devote sufficient attention to systemic, structural, and institutional violence that tends to affect women disproportionately. Second, truth commissions are not designed to encourage the participation of women, and thus perpetuate the silencing of women in those societies.

The drafters of the Kenyan legislation establishing the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission were sensitive to these critiques, requiring that there be gender balance among the commissioners (we began with five male and four female commissioners); requiring that the chair and vice chair be of opposite gender; including sexual- and gender-based violence in the violations we were to investigate, and suggesting that we put into place special mechanisms and procedures to address the experiences of women. During most of our operational period, our CEO was a woman; and during the fourteen months when we conducted most of our external activities (statement taking, public hearings, investigations, and other outreach activities), our acting chair was a woman – in fact Tecla Namachanja Wanjala was the first woman to serve as the chair of a truth commission. Continue reading

African Court issues its first judgment on women’s rights

On 11 May 2018, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a landmark judgment in the case APDF and IHRDA versus the Republic of Mali. For the first time in its history, the Court found a violation of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. The Court held that Malian Family Code violates women’s rights as recognized under international law, and condemned the State of Mali to modify its legislation.

Two civil society organisations had lodged a complaint before the African Court in September 2016 alleging that the Malian Family code adopted in 2011 is not compatible with the State’s obligations under international law. The Court therefore proceeded to examine if the code was in conformity with human rights instruments Mali had ratified, and found that several provisions of this code are not.

The Malian Family Code permits marriage for girls from the age of 16-years. In specific circumstances, the minimum age for marriage for girls may be lowered to 15-years. Consent is not always a requirement for a marriage to be valid. The African Court found that the relevant provisions of the Family Code are blatant violations of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) under which the minimum age for marriage is 18 years for both women and men. The Maputo Protocol also provides that free and full consent in marriage must be protected by law. In matters of inheritance, Islamic law and customary practice is the applicable regime by default in Mali. This means that women only receive half of what men receive and children born out of wedlock receive inheritance only when their parents so decide. In relation to this issue, the African Court emphasized that women and natural children should be entitled to inheritance by law, and as such, the Family Code should not allow the application of rules contrary to this principle. The Court held that the relevant provisions of the Malian Family Code are discriminatory and perpetuate practices or traditions harmful towards women and children, in violation of the Maputo Protocol, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The political context in which the Malian Family Code was adopted, characterized by vigorous opposition by religious movements to a more progressive legislation, was at the heart of the arguments put forward by the State of Mali in its defence. But to the African Court, this was no good excuse for passing a law contradictory to its international obligations. It thus ordered Mali to modify its legislation as well as to take measures to inform, teach, educate and sensitize the population on the rights of women, and to report to the Court on the implementation of the judgement within a period of two years. Continue reading

The Akayesu Judgment at 20: looking back, pushing forward

Twenty years ago, on September 2nd, 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) handed down a landmark trial judgment in the Akayesu case: the first to define rape as a crime against humanity, and the first to recognize that rape and other acts of sexual violence are constitutive acts of genocide. The defendant, the mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba, was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for acts he engaged in and oversaw against Taba’s Tutsi residents, including murder, torture, rape, and other inhumane acts.

Throughout its findings, the ICTR Trial Chamber surfaced gender in its legal analysis, illuminating the gendered experience of mass atrocities, and underscoring how the perpetrators’ and victims’ understanding of gender influenced the planning, commission, and impact of a wide range of genocidal acts.

Akayesu‘s ground-breaking findings owed less to the Prosecution’s case theory – which originally failed to include charges of sexual violence, despite the rape of between 250,000 and 500,000 women and girls between April and June 1994 – than to the Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations. Formed by feminist activists in 1996, the Coalition mobilized around the ICTR’s failure to investigate and prosecute sexual violence. As prosecution witnesses, who were primarily female survivors of the genocide, gave first-hand accounts of sexual violence, the Coalition submitted an amicus curiae brief calling upon the Trial Chamber to use its authority to invite the Prosecution to amend their Indictment to include charges of rape and other acts of sexual violence.

One of the suggestions in the amicus was that the Prosecution charge rape and sexual violence as acts of genocide, arguing that they were essential components of the genocide, and were designed to “destroy a woman from a physical, mental or social perspective and [destroy] her capacity to participate in the reproduction and production of the community.” An oft-cited passage in the Akayesu Judgment, echoes aspects of this argument:

Sexual violence was an integral part of the process of destruction, specifically targeting Tutsi women and specifically contributing to their destruction and to the destruction of the Tutsi group as a whole. […] Sexual violence was a step in the process of the destruction of the Tutsi group—destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself.

On the 20th anniversary of Akayesu, two things are evident.

First, despite the judgment’s pioneering nature, a gendered understanding of genocide (and international crimes, more generally) still needs to be consciously asserted in investigations, analysis, and prosecutions. The legal avenues opened by Akayesu were, for a long time, not seized upon by prosecutors; the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Prosecution’s practice of charging rape occurring during the genocide as crimes against humanity and/or war crimes, rather than genocide, continued. Decades later, the analysis and reporting of genocide continues to revolve around an understanding of genocide as a crime committed through organized mass killings. Killing remains the privileged genocidal act, and consequently the examination of the risk and commission of genocide has largely, and unhelpfully, revolved around the numbers killed. Akayesu notwithstanding, the majority of genocide convictions in both the ICTR and ICTY have been based on instances of mass executions, founded upon strategies geared towards achieving the immediate physical destruction of (predominantly male members of) the protected group.

Second, the work of asserting a gendered analysis of international crimes continues largely to be done by feminist jurists and practitioners, most of whom are female. While it is not the role of female lawyers and activists to bring to light the experience of women and girls in jurisprudence, the task has too often fallen on their shoulders. Akayesu would not have been the landmark case it is without the work of the female-led Coalition; the Judges, notably Judge Navanethem Pillay; and the Chamber’s Legal Officers, notably Cecile Aptel. At the ICTY, three female lawyers and investigators led the development of the evidence of crimes committed in Foča with an express focus on building a case that reflected the organized way rape was used as part of ethnic cleansing. As a result, the Kunarac Judgment found sexual enslavement and rape as crimes against humanity. At the International Criminal Court (ICC), it was under the auspices of the first female Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, that a gender strategy for investigations and prosecutions was developed.

The red thread of genocide continues to course its way through human history. In June 2016, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria determined that ISIS was committing the crime of genocide against the Yazidis of the Sinjar region of northern Iraq. In August 2018, the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar held that there was sufficient information to support an inference of genocidal intent regarding the actions of Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya. Having failed in its obligation to prevent genocide, punishment remains a priority for the international community. The UN’s recent report on Myanmar has reinforced calls for the Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC. For the Yazidi genocide, the path to justice is likely to be forged through national courts, including, hopefully, in Iraq. The Iraqi Investigation Team, created by the Security Council, has just begun its work.

As the push for accountability for the Yazidi and Rohingya genocides continues, it is essential that prosecutors and activists alike ensure that acts of genocide, beyond the act of killing, are fully investigated, properly indicted, and raised at trial. As women and girls are more likely to survive genocide, any ensuing trials rely heavily on what they have seen, heard, and suffered. A conception of genocide that relies on them bearing witness to killings (usually but not solely of male members of the group), and which turns away from all non-lethal acts of genocide (usually but not solely visited on female members of the group) is a harm to the survivors, the group, the historical record, and to our understanding of the crime of genocide.

When genocide is recognized only its most murderous articulations and gendered genocidal crimes such as rape, torture, forced pregnancy, and enslavement are ignored, States and international organizations lose much of their power to uphold the legal obligations to prevent and punish genocide. When the gendered crimes of genocide are excluded from prosecutions, the living survivors of genocide are denied justice and history yet again erases the experiences of women and girls.

In 1998, Akayesu’s gendered analysis was ground-breaking. In 2018, it’s never been more necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Numbers: Gender Parity on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights— A Lesson for African Regional Courts?

Image-1ON August 27 2018, the newly elected judges on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights were sworn in at the seat of the Court in Arusha, Tanzania. Earlier on, from June 25 to July 2, 2018, the 31st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) took place in Nouakchott, the capital city of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. One of the agenda items during the session was the election of new judges to fill vacancies on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR). Four spots had opened on the court—one of which was left open by Judge Solomy Balungi Bossa who resigned from the ACtHPR after her successful election to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in December 2017.

The three newly sworn in judges are; Judge Imani Aboud, the Judge-in-Charge at the Tanga High Court in Tanzania and current President of the Tanzania branch of the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), elected from the East African region. Judge Stella Isibhakhomen Anukam, Director of the International and Comparative Law Department in the Federal Ministry of Justice in Abuja, Nigeria, representing the West African region, and Professor Blaise Tchikaya, a Professor of International Public Law at University of Paris, France, a native of Congo representing the Central region. The fourth seat was retained by Judge Ben Kioko of Kenya who was re-elected for a second six-year term.

This recent election is a historical one because it brings the gender composition of the court to six women and five men! The record of gender parity set by the ACtHPR begun with the elections in 2017, where in an earlier post Vive la Diversité!I noted that in celebrating the gains made at the African Court in achieving gender parity,  the Court’s gender parity success should provide lessons for other regional courts in Africa—especially the benches of the  ECOWAS Court of Justice and the East African Court of Justice where women judges are woefully underrepresented.

From Tunis to Lusaka, women judges across the continent of Africa are making important strides in domestic judiciaries as shown in Gender and the Judiciary in Africa: From Obscurity to Parity? These developments do not rest only at the prescriptive level, as  a growing number of women have broken the veil of masculinity and ascended to leadership positions as Chief Justices and Presidents of Constitutional Courts. From Arusha to The Hague, the increase in the number of women judges from Africa is being felt at the international level as documented in International Courts and the African Woman Judge: Unveiled Narratives.  Currently, of the six women judges on the bench of the International Criminal Court (ICC), two are from Africa, accounting for 33% of all women on the bench— in a tie with the Latin America and Caribbean Group. At the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Justice Julia Sebutinde made history when she was elected to the ICJ bench in 2012, making her the first woman from the continent of Africa on the ICJ.

The representation of African women on the ACtHPR and the ICC strongly suggests that there is a pool of qualified women judges from the continent of Africa to fill positions on the benches of sub-regional, regional, and international courts. The record set by the ACtHPR, by achieving gender parity in its 12 years of existence is remarkable in the history of international courts and tribunals, where it took over forty years for the European Court of Justice to appoint its first woman judge, Fidelma Macken in 1999. The gender parity gains at the ACtHPR can be linked to a combination of regional factors and mechanisms. One such mechanism is the activist agenda to achieve gender equality embodied in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa(Maputo Protocol) and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, aimed at achieving gender equality across the continent. Second, the sustained advocacy for women’s equal participation in decision-making, led by women’s organizations such as Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR). Additionally, the commitment of the Legal Affairs unit of the African Union in reviewing and rejecting nominations that do not contain the names of women, has proved instrumental in meeting the nomination requirements. Credit must also be given for the political will of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government to abide by the gender representation provisions in Article 12 (nominations) and Article 14 (elections) of the Protocol to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of  an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Court Protocol).

Beyond the numbers, what should the gender parity on the ACtHPR mean?

Attaining a critical mass of women judges on the ACtHPR is a great achievement, but more needs to be done. In the following discussion, I offer seven suggestions on how to move beyond the numbers.

First, is the need to develop specific strategies. The gender parity on the ACtHPR should provide lessons leading to the development of specific strategies for achieving gender parity on the benches of other African regional courts. This development should be used as an advocacy tool by women’s rights organizations to signal to other regional courts to nominate and elect qualified women judges to judicial positions. Not all sub-regional courts have gender aspirational targets in their protocols. Nonetheless, even where there are no aspirational targets, the success achieved by the ACtHPR should be framed and articulated as a regional diffusion mechanism for developing norms and best practices for judicial selection in other regional courts. The success at the ACtHPR should encourage other courts to revise their selection methods and bring them to par with evolving international standards for achieving gender balanced benches.

Second, is the need for advancing knowledge. Current scholarship needs to look beyond the descriptive representation of women on the ACtHPR. Feminist legal scholars should move past essentialist studies on the numbers of women judges and move towards analyses of questions on the substantive representation of judges. Research on substantive representation of African women judges has shown that women judges bring more than gender and racial diversity to the benches of international courts. Scholars need to focus on new research questions that interrogate wider judicial issues beyond why more women are needed and what they do on these courts. In this endeavour, scholars need to be mindful of avoiding essentialist repetitions of the “difference women judges make”, a caution succinctly captured by Judge Sebutinde when she notes;

In a world where one half of the population is female and the other half male, I would like for people to say one day that the World Court is comprised of fifty percent men and fifty percent women. That would be gender parity. It serves no purpose for people to ask, what difference or contribution have those three women judges made since they joined the Court? … For over seventy years there have been predominantly male judges serving on the International Court of Justice, yet nobody ever asks those kinds of questions when it comes to men. Why should the female judges serving on the Court have to justify or validate their presence or role on the Court? As long as we meet the statutory qualifications and are duly elected, we have as much right to sit on that Bench and to participate in the settlement of State disputes, without having to validate or justify our presence there with “value addition,” period.[1]

Third, is spreading the progress across sectors. The gender parity gains made at the ACtHPR and the long established gender parity on the African Union Commission, should be used as tools for promoting the African Union Agenda 2063, specifically goal 5, of achieving “an Africa whose development is people driven, relying on the potential offered by people, especially its womenand youth and caring for children.” Relying on the potential of women for development is not new to the African context. Women have always been at the center of economic development and have contributed in many ways to the domestic and international economic development projects. Yet, one of the many things lacking is the political will and commitment of governments and leaders to provide conducive political conditions and free and fair electoral processes aimed at encouraging and promoting women running for elected office. The remarkable progress made in increasing the gender representation on the ACtHPR should spread horizontally and vertically into other political, bureaucratic and administrative levels—beginning with the African Union organs and spreading across domestic government structures.

Fourth, is the mentoring impact. The increase in the number of women judges on both domestic and regional courts in Africa opens the door and encourages young girls and women to aspire for professional leadership. As the continent of Africa deals with its youth bulge, the success of women judges and other women in leadership positions should be used as learning and mentoring opportunities for the younger generation. In the words of Judge Florence Ndepele Mwachande Mumba;

The call for women judges must start at state level. National governments must be persuaded to open judiciaries to women judges and to promote their nomination to international courts. It is necessary to provide for gender balancing in international courts, at all times. Otherwise, women judges can easily be overlooked as the majority heads of state are still men. International legal practice offers women opportunities to excel and to contribute towards peace and harmony for all. Other women judges I worked with were of similar views. They felt that if women lawyers were promoted to high judicial office, gender balance would be attained. This would encourage girls to pursue law knowing that if they distinguished themselves, they can reach the highest offices in the legal profession.[2]

There is a lot to learn from the growing trend of women judges and their leadership capabilities. In May 2010, of the 18 judges on the ICC bench, 11 were women, the highest number the court had ever had. In 2015, the ICC made history with its all-female Presidency with the election of Judge Silvia Férnanda de Gurmendi as President, Judge Joyce Aluoch as First Vice-President and Judge Kuniko Ozaki from Japan as Second Vice President. At the ICC, four African women have served in the Vice Presidency; these include Judge Akua Kuenyehia of Ghana, Judge Fatoumata Dembele Diarra of Mali, Judge Sanji Monageng of Botswana and Judge Joyce Aluoch of Kenya. At the African Court, Judge Sophia Akuffo of Ghana and Judge Elsie Thompson of Nigeria have served as President and Vice President respectively.

Sixth, gains are not linear.The gender parity fluctuations at the ICC has shown that reaching gender parity on an international bench is not to be taken as a given, as these gains can be reversed at any time. Before the December 2017 elections of judges to the ICC, with the retirement of six judges, only one woman remained on the court. But for the election of five new women judges, the ICC would have regressed on its gender parity record. Sustainable gender balanced courts require continued vigilance to ensure that the progress made becomes institutionalized, eventually developing to the status of a customary principle or practice.

Seventh, is the need for sustained advocacy.Many challenges remain in achieving gender parity across other international institutions and courts. Gender activists must continue the drive to change the picture of international law through movements such as the GQUAL Campaign. Sustaining and replicating the progress at the ACtHPR provides lessons not only for African courts, but for all international courts, and advocates of gender parity can draw some best practices from the continent of Africa.

[1]Grossman, Nienke. (2018) Judge Julia Sebutinde: An Unbreakable Cloth. In, Dawuni, Josephine and Kuenyehia, Akua (ed.s), International Courts and the African Woman Judge: Unveiled Narratives (Routledge, 2018).

[2]Mumba, Florence N.M. (2018). Women Judges in International Courts and Tribunals –The Quest for Equal Opportunities.In, Dawuni, Josephine and Kuenyehia, Akua (eds), International Courts and the African Woman Judge: Unveiled Narratives (Routledge, 2018).

***This article is cross-posted from the Institute for African Women in Law.