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Another Judicial Win for Women of Africa: Judge Miatta Maria Samba Elected to the ICC Bench.

By J. Jarpa Dawuni, P.h.D.


Congratulations to Judge Miatta Maria Samba for her recent election to the bench of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This electoral outcome makes her the eighth woman from the continent of Africa to serve on the bench of the ICC. Judge Samba’s election is reminiscent of the recent re-election of Judge Julia Sebutinde to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), as they both signal a big victory for gender diversity in international courts and tribunals. Judge Samba’s successful election further represents a victory for women legal professionals across the continent of Africa who are increasingly demonstrating their leadership acumen at both domestic and international courts.

The recently concluded election of six judges to the bench of the ICC started with a list of 18 nominee judges. By a note verbal dated December 20, 2019, the call for nominations at the national level was opened, with subsequent extensions. The elections took place from December 17-23, 2020 at the headquarters of the United Nations, by the Assembly of States Parties. The table below shows the electoral outcome after eight rounds of voting.

The election of judges to international courts is of interest to national governments, nongovernmental organizations, civil society actors, legal scholars and analysts. Feminist legal scholars interested in gender diversity and equity, have analyzed a plethora of questions, including critical reviews of the rules and procedures for nominations at the domestic level, and elections at the international level. Between the nomination and election phases, lies the heated campaigns, debates and vote trading, all aimed at selecting the best candidates, while jostling the sovereign interests of states. Despite the seemingly transparent rules and policies for election to the international bench, various scholars have questioned the presumed meritocracy and power hierarchies that tend to favor some nations over others, some legal systems over others, and some genders over others. In an earlier article, I argued that through professional activities on and off the bench, women judges from Africa are not only symbolic representations of gender diversity, but that they also engage in substantive representation at the global and domestic levels.

The Africa group of states presented five candidates, with Judge Samba as the only female candidate.

Judge Miatta Samba joins a growing number of African women who have served on the bench of the ICC as shown by the table below:

Data source:

Introducing Judge Miatta Samba

Judge Miata Samba was elected to the ICC bench during the third round of voting, with a two-thirds majority vote of 83. Per Article 36 of the Rome Statute, she was nominated in category A (for candidates with expertise in criminal law and procedure), following the domestic nomination processes put in place by the government of Sierra Leone. Judge Miatta Samba comes to this new position with an admirable list of qualifications spanning her work as a lawyer, a prosecutor in international courts and tribunals, a Judge of the Court of Appeal in Sierra Leone, an academic at the Fourah Bay School of law, and a judge on the UN Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. A review of the statement of qualifications submitted by the government of Sierra Leone for her nomination, provides details on her qualifications and work experience.

The highlights of her career include:

  • Judge of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone (2020-to date).

  • Judge of the Court of Appeal in Sierra Leone (2019).

  • Judge of the High Court of Sierra Leone (2015-2019).

  • Senior Prosecutor at the Anti-Corruption Commission (2010-2015).

  • Associate Trial Attorney, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (2002-2010).

  • Field Operations Officer, Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (2010-2015).

  • Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone (2003-present).

As a trial attorney, Judge Miatta Samba devoted much of her advocacy on women and child issues, by working with several organizations in Sierra Leone to provide pro-bono services to victims of sexual offences and gender-based violence, including those against minors. As a judge, she is credited with contributing to the jurisprudence of Sierra Leone through judgements which have been considered by the legal community as significant to addressing issues of sexual and gender-based violence.

The Institute for African Women in Law wishes Judge Miatta Maria Samba the very best as she takes up this new position on the bench of the ICC.


Background on the ICC Bench

The ICC bench is divided into five regions or group of states: the Africa group of states, Asia and Pacific, East Europe (EE), Group of Latin America and Caribbean (GRULAC), and West Europe and other group (WEOG). The ICC is one of the few international courts that has taken deliberate steps to advance gender equitable representation in its founding document, in Article 36 of the Rome Statute, and the rules for election of judges contained in the Minimum Voting Rules (MVR). Despite the progress in achieving gender diversity on the bench of the ICC, the pathways for women judges must be constantly monitored to ensure sustainability of the gender equitable gains made so far.

The table below shows the number of women viz-a-viz men who have been elected to the bench of the ICC since it came into force in 2003. As a proportion of the number of women from all the five regions, Africa has been leading, while WEOG represents the least gender diverse region.

Data source:



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