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Julia Sebutinde

Julia Sebutinde

Judge, and first African woman on the International Court of Justice.
Former Judge, Special Court for Sierra Leone.

My Story, Your Inspiration

Thirty years ago, if someone had told me that a young girl from a humble family in Kiwafu village in Entebbe, Uganda, would one day be the first African woman judge on the World Court, I would probably think they are crazy! I didn’t know of any lawyers that could have acted as role models. I can’t tell you that I was particularly informed as to what law studies even involved. I just jumped in there, encouraged by my peers, and then discovered, well, this is quite nice. I quite like this.

The decision to apply for a judicial position on the Court and the subsequent selection process were quite challenging, however. When I was considering the position, I knew no one on the Court, and based on the composition, I questioned what kind of work environment I might find there. I looked at the photographs and profiles of all the judges that had served on the ICJ in the last 70 years of its existence, they were typical elderly, white men mostly, probably set in their ways because of their age. You are crazy, I thought to myself, if you think that they are ever going to accept you as an equal. Where are you even going to start? Do you really think there is a place for you on this bench? I was thinking, even if I was lucky enough to sit on that bench, would they even listen to me? Would I have anything of value to say to any of them? Many un-nerving thoughts went through my head as I contemplated submitting my candidature.

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.

Quoted in International Courts and the African Woman Judge: Unveiled Narratives (Routledge, 2018).

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