The Institute for African Women in Law and the Wilson Center Women in Public Service Project jointly launched the book, International Courts and the African Woman Judge: Unveiled Narratives (Routledge, 2018) edited by Dr. Josephine Jarpa Dawuni and Hon. Judge Akua Kuenyehia (Former Judge of the International Criminal Court), with a foreword by Hon. Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald (Former Judge/President of the ICTY and Former Arbitrator, Iran-US Claims Tribunal).
Gwen Young, Director of the Wilson Center Women in Public Service Project introduced the panel.
Dr. Josephine Jarpa Dawuni opened the discussion, highlighting her motivations for editing this volume, noting among others the importance of drawing on the theories of postcolonial feminism, legal narratives and feminist institutionalism to analyze the place of women from the continent of Africa on international courts. She noted, “Why are we looking at African women judges? Why not the fact that she is a judge, she is qualified, she can do it. Legal Narratives help us understand their trajectory to the international bench.”
Prof. Nienke Grossman discussed the work of International Court of Justice Judge Julia Sebutinde (Chapter 3 below).
Prof. Rachel Ellett’s chapter focused on Judge Kellelo Mafoso-Guni of the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR) (Chapter 7 below).
Counsellor Christiana Tah, Former Minister of Justice, Republic of Liberia, provided remarks as a discussant. She noted;
“We [women] want to participate, we want to be a part of the process.”
“It’s important to uplift African women, but it’s not all about race, it’s about uplifting all women.”
“One of the things I always think about when discussing Africa and the judiciary is that you have to look at it as a dichotomy because of the history of colonization. How do you harmonize the two?
Other Chapters in the Book Include
Chapter 1: Introduction: Challenging Gender Universalism and Unveiling the Silenced Narratives of the African Woman Judge
By Josephine Jarpa Dawuni
This chapter provides the theoretical and conceptual framework around which the book is developed. By engaging in an overview and analysis of existing scholarship on gender and judging, it questions the gaps in existing theoretical perspectives and exposes questions on gender diversity which have not been addressed. It discusses the method and structure of the book.
Chapter 2: Women Judges in International Courts and Tribunals: The Quest for Equal Opportunities
By Judge Florence Ndepele Mwanchande Mumba
This chapter is a personal reflection on the life and journey of Justice Florence Ndepele Mwachande Mumba. The chapter traces her life growing up in Zambia, attaining a legal education and becoming the first woman High Court Judge in the Zambia. In 1997, Judge Mumba was elected to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. She served as a Trial Judge for six years. She presided over, the Prosecutor vs Anto Furundzija, IT-95-17/1; the Prosecutor vs Kunarac et al, IT-96-23-T; the Prosecutor vs Simic et al. IT-95-9/T. Convictions in these cases included torture as a violation of laws or customs of war, outrages upon human dignity, rape as torture, enslavement, and crimes against humanity for persecution, cruel and inhumane treatment and beatings. These were among the first convictions for ICTY where rape and sexual violence were pronounced as crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. Judge Mumba presided over two guilty pleas, The Prosecutor vs Drazen Erdemovic, IT-96-22 and the Prosecutor vs Milan Simic, IT-95-9/2. Judge Mumba’s view is that international crimes trials must be held in the territories where atrocities were committed for the benefit of indicted persons and the community. Statutory provisions for gender balance in international courts and tribunals are essential.
Chapter 3: Julia Sebutinde: An Unbreakable Cloth
By Nienke Grossman
This Chapter discusses the life story of International Court of Justice Judge Julia Sebutinde. It highlights her determination and strength of character, while raising questions about gender, geographical background, race, ethnicity and judging, and international judicial selection procedures. After detailing her biography before becoming an international judge, the Chapter turns to her selection to, experiences on and contributions to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and subsequently, the International Court of Justice. The Chapter contains a section on her advice to future generations, an analysis of why her story is significant, and finally, it suggests avenues for further academic research.
Chapter 4: Akua Kuenyehia : Leaving a Mark Along the Journey for Human Rights
By Josephine Jarpa Dawuni
This chapter chronicles the life and journey of Justice Akua Kuenyehia, an academic, women’s rights activist and an international court judge. Using legal narratives as a tool for centering her experiences, the chapter presents monumental developments in her life as presented sometimes in her voice and situated within existing discourse on women, gender and feminist engagement with international law.
Chapter 5: Fatoumata Dembélé Diarra : Trajectory of a Malian Magistrate and Civil Society Advocate to the International Criminal Court
By Sara Dezalay
A high-level magistrate and prominent civil society advocate in Mali, Judge Fatou Dembélé Diarra featured among the historic first bench of judges elected to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2003. This chapter gives prominence to the voice of Diarra herself, as an exceptional individual with an acute degree of reflexivity over her own trajectory, the options she had and the professional strategies she pursued, and further, that of her own country’s post-colonial history. In so doing, however, it strives to reconstruct the structural conditions that can help explain her path, in what was still a French colony, in 1949, to the ICC. It underlines, meanwhile, how Diarra’s trajectory can prove a powerful entry-point to account for the position of legal elites in post-colonial Mali, and further, the role played by her appointment to the ICC, as a woman and as an African, in fostering the authority of the court over time.
Chapter 6: Judge Sophia Akuffo: Balancing the Equities
By Kuukuwa Andam and Sena Dei-Tutu
Justice Sophia was sworn in as the 13th Chief Justice of Ghana on June 19, 2017. Prior to this, Akuffo had served as the first female President of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (ACtHPR) in 2012, as Vice-President of the ACtHPR in 2008 and as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana since 1995. This chapter tracks Akuffo’s career from her birth in Akropong-Akuapem, in the Eastern Region of Ghana, to her appointment as the second female Chief Justice of Ghana. In particular, a selection of cases that Akuffo delivered judgments in will be analyzed as a means of contextualizing Akuffo’s legal philosophy. Additionally, this chapter will examine some of the challenges Akuffo faced as well as the lessons learnt during her legal career. In identifying the barriers that Akuffo encountered, this chapter considers the similarities between Akuffo’s experience and the experiences of thousands of female lawyers and judges working on the African continent; with a mind to highlighting avenues for increasing the participation of African women on International Courts. The chapter concludes with some observations and future research questions.
Chapter 7: Justina Kellelo Mafoso-Guni: The Gendering of Judicial Appointment Processes in African Courts
By Rachel Ellett
Representation of women in domestic and international courts is essential to the legitimacy of those institutions. Over the last decade low representation of women judges has begun to be addressed through reform of appointment processes. However, reforming formal appointment mechanisms does not eliminate the gendered informal structures of judicial appointments. Justice Mafoso-Guni’s biography – first woman to the Lesotho High Court and the African Court of Human and People’s Rights (ACtHPR) – illustrates the pervasiveness of informal gendered institutions as an obstacle to women reaching the bench; both in Lesotho and the ACtHPR. Utilizing diachronic analysis, this chapter reveals the arch of Mafoso-Guni’s career trajectory and pauses to offer more in-depth analysis on her appointment challenges in Lesotho and to the ACtHPR. Placing Mafoso-Guni’s appointment challenges in the broader context of increasing numbers of women to the bench more generally; her story highlights both the limitations and the gendering of individual agency in light of weak formal institutional commitments to gender parity. It further reveals the gendered power asymmetries present in the informal institutional mechanisms of both domestic and international judicial appointments. Judicial appointments perfectly illustrate the gendered institutional context in which women seek to carve a pathway to the bench.
Chapter 8: Elsie Nwanwuri Thompson: The Trajectory of a Noble Passion
By Rebecca Emiene Badejogbin
This chapter explores the trajectory of Judge Elsie Thompson from her background, to the Nigerian judiciary and onward as a Judge and eventually a Vice President of the African Court of Human and People’s Rights. It reveals the distinctiveness of her experiences and trail blazing paths, and is a demonstration of the impact of various factors such as socio-economic and political, as well as cultural location, education, contextual experiences, institutional opportunities and personal agency on the ascendancy of African women to transnational courts, and according to her, divine providence. The narration and analysis of these experiences engage a convergence of theories that touch on the impact of institutional arrangements on women, and the lingering effects of political, economic and cultural factors on women’s access to political appointments in a post-colonial context. While her experiences generally agree with literature on the subject of women’s ascendancy to these courts, this chapter closely interrogates her ascent as an African woman to a transnational court and states that not only does her presence in the court create judicial diversity, she has made ‘valuable contributions to jurisprudence and the development’ of regional laws.
Chapter 9: Conclusion: International Courts and the African Woman Judge– Unlocking Doors, Leaving a Legacy
By Josephine Jarpa Dawuni and Akua Kuenyehia
This chapter provides a recap of the goals of this project. It summarizes the key findings, amplifies questions yet to be explored and sets an agenda for the development of future research on women and judging in Africa. It also sets a plan for maintaining the momentum made with African women’s access to international courts and tribunals.
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