Justice Julia Sebutinde yesterday described as a dream-come-true her election as the world court judge while Uganda welcomed Tuesday’s positive vote by the UN as a “relief”.
“I am excited and look forward to embarking on the job,” Justice Sebutinde said by telephone from New York, where she pitched camp to campaign for the coveted International Court of Justice (ICJ) job. She added: “I take nothing for granted and I know that this is going to be a tough job and an ultimate test of my personal judicial independence and courage.”
Justice Sebutinde is presently one of the judges at the Hague-based UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, trying former Liberian President Charles Taylor. She beat off spirited competition from Sierra Leonean Judge Abdul Koroma to win the ICJ slot after obtaining 97 votes in the UN General Assembly compared to Koroma’s 83. The 15-member Security Council gave her nine votes and six to the Sierra Leonean, who already served at the World Court for 18 years.
Tuesday’s vote came three weeks after 11 rounds of inconclusive UN votes on two separate days when Sebutinde won majority votes in the General Assembly but Justice Koroma beat her in the Security Council.
It is understood the deadlock prompted President Museveni to make personal calls to foreign capitals, resulting in a swing vote by UN Security Council delegates in Sebutinde’s favour. “It is a real relief,” Uganda’s acting Permanent Representative to the UN, Mr Adonia Ayebare, said by telephone from New York. “Sebutinde was the African Union-endorsed candidate. There is discipline in Africa and we did not have to go through this mess.”
Mr Ayebare’s remarks were in reference to Sierra Leone’s surprise presentation of Justice Koroma as a candidate against Justice Sebutinde who had been unanimously endorsed by AU technocrats, the ministerial council and heads of states’ summit.
His candidature for re-election polarised the continental bloc as well as UN member states, resulting in 11 rounds of voting during last month’s contest. Mr Ayebare said: “We hope in future the AU endorsements for jobs and international assignments or positions will be respected.”
The victory, said Justice Sebutinde, was a product of aggressive lobbying by the “small but able” team of Ugandan diplomats in New York, Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials in Kampala as well as State House. She said: “It was a long struggle involving a lot of perseverance and support of our small but able team. I don’t look at this job as one only for the personal benefit of Sebutinde but the whole of Africa.” She becomes the first African woman to serve as judge at the World Court.
Since Justice Koroma was seeking re-election for a third term after serving at ICJ for 18 years, Uganda focused on the need for a fresh blood, gender equality and the country’s Common Law jurisdiction to rally reluctant states.
This newspaper has learnt that Ugandan diplomats in New York managed to identify states opposed to Sebutinde’s candidature – even when the previous votes were taken by secret ballot - and forwarded the list to Kampala so President Museveni would engage them directly.