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and International Courts

African Women

Sophia A. B. Akuffo

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACtHPR)


Sophia Akuffo is the former Chief Justice of Ghana. She received her Bachelor of Law degree from the University of Ghana and qualified as a barrister at the Ghana School of Law. She was trained as a lawyer under Nana Akufo-Addo and received a Master’s Degree in Law from Harvard University. Organizations that she worked at after law school included Akufo-Addo, Prempeh & Co., Mobil Oil, and Ghana Airways, where she served as Legal Director. She was nominated to the Supreme Court of Ghana in 1995, where she used her rulings to protect the rights of Ghanaian women. In the case of Mensah v. Mensah (2012), it was decided that women had the right to acquire half of all properties gained during the marriage from the divorce. In 2006, she was elected as one of the first judges of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, alongside Justice Kelello Justina Mafoso-Guni.

In 2008, she was appointed as Vice-President of the Court, was re-elected in 2010, and was appointed as the Court’s first female President in 2012. As part of her mandate, Akuffo sought to spread awareness of the Court and what it did across Africa, and she did this through educational outreaches. Akuffo was nominated as Chief Justice in May 2017, and sworn in that same year by President Akufo-Addo, making her Ghana’s 13th Chief Justice and the second successive woman to serve as Chief Justice in the country.
Akuffo retired in 2019 but was appointed to Ghana’s COVID-19 Fund in February 2020. Justice Akuffo has served on the governing Committee of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute, and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Task-Force. She has also participated in several judicial system reforms, including the implementation of a fast- track court system and revamping of the Ghana Law School.

Elsie Nwanwuri Thompson

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACtHPR)


Elsie Thompson is a judge of the High Court of Rivers State, Nigeria. Born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, she earned her Bachelor of Laws degree from Queen Mary College University London and was admitted to the English bar in 1984. A year later, she was admitted to the Nigerian bar after receiving vocational training from the Nigerian Law School, and spent 20 years working on human rights cases in private legal practice.

In 1998, Junior Chamber International named her one of its ‘Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the year’. She was heavily involved in the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA). Cases that she covered ranged from inheritance to divorce settlements, domestic violence, matrimonial causes, and maintenance. She served as State Chairperson from 1997 to 2001, Deputy Country Vice-President from 2001 to 2003, Country President from 2003 to 2005, and as Regional Vice-President for Africa from 2005 to 2008. She was also the first Nigerian to be elected to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights for a six-year term in 2010.

Whilst at the Court she served as Vice President from 2014 to 2016. Thompson dedicated herself to service relatively early in her career by launching a law clinic where lawyers offered free legal services to less fortunate individuals who were incarcerated without legal representation. This initiative earned her a State Merit Award in 1986 and was replicated across Nigeria so that more indigent individuals were given access to pro-Bono legal representation. Other awards that she has received include the Trail Blazer Award from the Nigerian Bar Association Women Interest Section and FIDA Nigeria’s Award of Excellence. She is a member of the National Association of Women Judges Nigeria, the Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn, and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK.

Kelello Justina Mafoso-Guni

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACtHPR)


Kelello Mafoso-Guni is a former judge of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. She was also the first female lawyer in Lesotho and the first woman to serve in the High Court of Lesotho. Mafoso-Guni studied law at the University of Lesotho and the University of Edinburgh and was appointed Crown Counsel in Lesotho from 1970 to 1974. She then moved to the United Kingdom to work in the civil service for twelve years.

Upon returning to Africa, she became a magistrate in Zimbabwe in 1980, becoming the first woman in the country to serve on that bench. She served as Senior Magistrate but quickly moved on to become Provincial Magistrate of Mashonaland whilst also presiding over the juvenile court. She served as a magistrate in Zimbabwe for twelve years. In 1995, she returned to Lesotho and became the first woman judge appointed to the High Court, blazing a path for other female judges in the country.

Mafoso-Guni handled many cases, including some relating to gender discrimination. An example of one of these cases was Mahasele v. Kali (2011), in which Mafoso-Guni ruled against a soldier avoiding taking a paternity test. She reasoned that the child deserved to know who their father was. Up until her African Court nomination, Mafoso-Guni had proven herself to be an ideal candidate with over 20 years of judicial experience.

In 2006, she was elected for a four-year term as one of the first judges of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, alongside Sophia Akuffo. Despite only getting to hear one case during her term at the African Court, Mafoso-Guni was instrumental in laying down some of the foundations of the Court, including its codes of procedure and its registrar. She continued to work as a judge of Lesotho’s High Court whilst at the Court.

Tujilane Rose Chizumila

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACtHPR)


Justice Tujilane Chizumila is a Malawian lawyer and jurist who was appointed as a judge of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2017 during the 28th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union. She has over 30 years of experience working in a legal, judicial, governing and democratic, and diplomatic capacity, on international programs, as well as in human rights and rule of law. She has served in Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania, in the Tanzania Legal Cooperation. Justice Chizumila has a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of Dar es Salaam and a Master’s degree in International Law. Chizumila worked for Save the Children for around a year before reporting to the Minister of Justice as a State Advocate. She was the first woman to establish a law firm in Malawi, and in 2000, she was the first female African Ambassador to be appointed High Commissioner to Zimbabwe.

In 2003, she was appointed judge of the High Court of Malawi. Justice Chizumila has served as Secretary of the Law Society of Malawi and was appointed Malawi’s first female Ombudsman by the Public Appointments Committee of the National Assembly. She served in this capacity from 2010 to 2015. Sticking to her reputation for ‘firsts’, she was also one of the first officers appointed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to address issues of displacement and child protection in Malawi. She was elected to the African Court in January 2017 and took up the seat in March of the same year.

Justice Chizumila is also a scholar who released the publication “A widow’s perspective- A personal experience”, which helped enact a law that made property grabbing illegal. Other publications include: “Women’s leadership roles and food security for refugees in Nsanje” and “Food distribution and sexual harassment in Ntcheu”.

Bensaoula Chafika

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACtHPR)


Justice Bensaoula Chafika is an Algerian jurist who was elected judge of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights for a six-year term in January 2017. Justice Chafika received a Doctorate in Public Law and is a lecturer at the National School of Magistracy in Algeria. At one point in her career, she also served as Director of the Department of Legal Studies and Documentation at the Ministry of Justice. Other positions she has taken up include Inspector of Administrative and Judicial Courts and member of the Board of Directors of the Institut de Droit et Justice.

She has been a judge of the Criminal Affairs Chambers and Court of Appeal in Algeria and was nominated for the International Narcotics Control Board by the Algerian government in 2016. As a judge in the Criminal Affairs Chambers, she handled cases related to delinquents. Justice Chafika was elected to the African Court in 2017, alongside Justice Tujilane Chizumila. The two women were sworn in at the same time, historically lifting the number of women in the court up to five. This enabled the African Court to reach the gender parity requirement stated in Article 12(2) and Article 14(3) of the Protocol that established it. Justice Chafika was elected to the Court during the 28th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union and was appointed during the 44th Ordinary Session of the Court in March 2017.

She has written several publications on administrative matters, including ‘The issue of mediation in Algerian Civil and Administrative Procedure Code’, ‘Conciliation in Administrative Matters’, and ‘Enforcement of administrative judgments by the administration’. She speaks French, Arabic, and English.

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