Justice Julia Sebutinde and Sierra Leonean Judge, Abdul Koroma, are locked in dead-heat contest for the coveted slot of judge of the world’s highest court, forcing the UN to adjourn for emergency consultations.
Whereas the Ugandan jurist picked the majority votes in 11 rounds of ballot by the 192 UN General Assembly members, Mr Koroma, on the other hand, marginally led in simultaneous but separate voting at the UN Security Council.
The two UN organs first cast the ballot on November 10, and again on November 22.
In the last round, Justice Sebutinde polled 102 of the 191 UNGA votes while Mr Koroma obtained only 89. He, however, picked eight votes in the 15-member Security Council slightly ahead of Justice Sebutinde with seven. Either candidate has to win approval of both UN organs to become one of 15 judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the next nine years.
The inconclusive results last week forced Qatari diplomat Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, who is president of the General Assembly, to adjourn the voting exercise and allow for further consultations by countries on the two candidates.
Diplomatic sources said Koroma’s standing took Uganda by surprise since the African Union twice - during its 18th and 19th sessions in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, respectively - unanimously endorsed Justice Sebutinde as a sole candidate.
It is not clear why Sierra Leone made a U-turn, a decision that has stirred mistrust among AU members. The unexpected decision came weeks after Mr Joseph Bandala Dauda, the Foreign Affairs minister of the West African country, assured his Ugandan counterpart Sam Kutesa during a meeting on September 22 that Sierra Leone would formally withdraw Mr Koroma’s candidature.
An upbeat Mr Kutesa wrote to the Sierra Leonean government a day after the meeting at Uganda House in New York, appreciating their decision to rescind judge Koroma’s bid.
“I wish to thank you for honouring your commitment made to the African Union in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to formally withdraw the candidature of Abdul George Koroma, in order to avoid undermining Judge Julia Sebutinde, the Ugandan candidate who was endorsed by the African Union,” Mr Kutesa wrote to his counterpart, Mr Dauda, on September 23.
He also reminded Freetown that the tradition of endorsing single candidates is “Africa’s strength”. It would, however, appear Uganda’s praise of Sierra Leone was premature as the two countries have now each gone on a diplomatic charm offensive to outwit the other to secure victory of their candidate.
Yesterday, Mr Adonia Ayebare, Uganda’s acting Permanent Representative to the UN, said they are working round-the-clock to ensure a Sebutinde victory in a yet unscheduled round of voting.
He said: “We have so far run an excellent campaign as evidenced by [Sebutinde’s] 11 wins in the UNGA and we are shy of one vote to clinch the ICJ judge spot.”