President Museveni last week urged the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to back Justice Julia Sebutinde’s second term candidature as one of judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the world’s highest court.
In a speech read by Uganda’s deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Phillip Odida, the President said as a country “we are proud of Justice Sebutinde; the first African woman to serve on the court, who has served the court with distinction.”
Mr Museveni’s entreaty to UNGA, the seat of the 193 UN member countries, came on backdrop of an ongoing heated campaigns for the judges’ elections ahead of the elections on November 15.
Justice Sebutinde was first elected to the judicial seat in 2011, after beating Sierra Leonean judge Abdul Koroma in a high stake vote. She had also been unanimously endorsed by the African Union bloc.
However, for her second and final term, Rwanda mid-last year fronted a candidate against her hence she could not get the continental bloc’s backing, as sole choice for Africa for the job.
Kigali fronted Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, who currently serves as president of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ). Diplomatic sources intimated then, that Kigali’s decision took the African diplomatic community by surprise since Justice Sebutinde’s second term “had already been endorsed by the AUC’s candidate’s committee” on the fact that she is a favorable choice for the position.
Against this backdrop, sources further indicated that Nigeria has also since tossed a hat in the ring with a candidate to take on the two neighbours.
Eight world countries besides Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria have fielded candidates for the five available slots up for election in November. Other countries include Japan, China, Germany, Slovakia, and Croatia.
“Once Rwanda’s candidacy emerged, it meant that Uganda could not secure the African Union’s backing for Sebutinde. Nigeria also putting a hat in the ring means they know they could ride on the disagreements between Kampala and Kigali to wrestle away the position,” a diplomatic source intimated.
“The worst case scenario to happen is for Africa to lose out completely since they cannot get organised to support one candidate. Remember, there are only five slots and there are eight candidates. But as Uganda we are not seated, we continue to canvass for support for Julia,” the source said.
The court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected by an absolute majority in both the UN General Assembly (97 votes) and Security Council (8 votes).
Five seats come up for election every three years. A winning candidate has to secure majority votes in both.
There is an informal arrangement that the judicial seats reflect the world’s geographical regions; as a result, there are five seats for Western countries, three for African states (including one judge of francophone civil law, one of Anglophone common law and one Arab), two for Eastern European states, three for Asian states and two for Latin American and Caribbean states.
As the world’s highest court, the International Court of Justice provides advisory opinions on legal conundrums submitted by other UN organs or agencies and also adjudicates legal disputes between states. Currently, the court has only three judges from Africa: Justice Abdulqawi Yusuf, the court’s president, who was elected in 2009 and his tenure runs up to 2027; Mohamed Bennouna from Morocco whose tenure runs up to 2024 and Justice Sebutinde.