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By Mulengera Reporters

As Ugandan legendary Judge Julia Sebutinde’s first 9-year term as one of the 15 Justices manning the International Court of Justice (which basically is the judicial arm of the UN) comes to an end, a new diplomatic war has erupted between Kampala and Kigali whose leadership is determined to have her replaced with their own candidate. Sebutinde has been part of The Hague Peace Palace-based ICJ since 6th February 2012 implying, she must secure fresh mandate or get replaced at the next UN General Assembly session.

Headquartered in The Hague, the International Court of Justice is the principal judicial arm of the UN where legendary Justice Julia Sebutinde has been serving as one of its 15 judges since 6th February 2012.

The membership to this all -important Court (which handles civil disputes between any of the 193 UN member states) is determined through elections conducted both in the UNGA and UN Security Council. And in both cases, one must secure absolute majority vote (meaning more than 50% of the electors). The practice has been for candidates to be nominated and sponsored by blocs like the AU though even an individual country can do the same. Besides the Court President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf (who is from Somalia), Sebutinde is the only African on the current ICJ panel of 15 Justices accepted to serve largely on the strength of their integrity and understanding or appreciation of legal matters. They aren’t expected to serve interests of their countries of origin or show any bias for that matter.

Because it was meant to be more inclusive than the pre-second World War equivalent it replaced, the ICJ must (out of necessity) be as inclusive of the entire globe as possible which is why the Court membership is drawn from across the world. The Vice President is Xue Hanqin from China and she, just like the President, is elected by the 15 members once the UNGA and UNSC are done with their voting. Platforms like AU can present and sponsor candidates previously agreed upon but they don’t have any other say beyond that once the UNGA and UNSC electors have voted who they consider most suitable.

Other ICJ members are Slovakia’s Peter Tomka, France’s Ronny Abraham, Morocco’s Mohamed Bennouna, Brazil’s Antonio Augusto Cancado Trindade, America’s Justice Joan E Donoghue, Italy’s Giorgio Gaja, India’s Dalveer Bhandari, Jamaica’s Patrick Lipton Robinson, Australia’s James Richard Crawford, Russia’s Kirill Gevorgian, Lebanon’s Nawaf Salam and Japan’s Yuji Iwasawa. At the upcoming UNGA assembly, the UN 193 member states will be voting on some of the members whose 9-year term is expiring soon. Expiry comes at different times because the 9 years are counted depending on when a particular judge became a member of the Court-and they join at different times. Our own Sebutinde will unfortunately be among those few whose fate will be decided at the upcoming session of UNGA and UNSC.

Photo montage of President Kagame, ICJ’s Justice Julia Sebutinde & President YK Museveni. Rwanda wants Sebutinde out of the UN-ICJ job for their own national to take it, something Museveni and other AU Summit members are vehemently objecting to. Apparently, the Sebutinde job saga has presented such a huge diplomatic dilemma for the AU which the two EAC veteran leaders must relentlessly scratch their heads about


At the prompting of Museveni, whose strategy these days is to get as much as he can for eminent Ugandans that qualify for such international jobs, Sebutinde recently commenced efforts and secured the endorsement of majority AU member states to seek reelection as the AU unanimous candidate. On hearing the AU had stamped the Ugandan’s wish to secure fresh mandate at the ICJ, Rwanda threw spanner in the works. In what diplomatic sources termed “deliberately spoiling things for Uganda,” Kigali objected to the majority AU endorsement rightly arguing they too as a UN member country had a right to propose a candidate for the lucrative UN/ICJ job which fetches a judge over $200,000 in annual net salary on top of the $15,000 special monthly allowance among other pecuniary benefits.

Whereas, as required by the relevant statute, the ICJ judges are primarily impartial in the way they dispense justice and are prohibited from conducting or construing themselves as representatives of the countries they hail from, having one’s national serving at that global level is a source of prestige and brings plenty of pride and self-esteem to the leadership of that country. And the pride resulting from such visibility at that level naturally makes the citizenry more proud and less frustrated. Certainly, it’s that sort of thing that is prompting Rwanda to act the way it’s doing against Museveni’s Uganda, a country some AU elders already consider ungrateful because of the way Africa has previously endorsed it’s candidates including Sam Kutesa’s UNGA Presidency in 2014/15 and Patrick Masambu’s headship of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (ITSO) in 2017 among others.

In what has greatly frustrated Museveni, and his foreign policy handlers, Rwanda hasn’t only objected to Sebutinde’s ICJ retention but has also fronted its own candidate. And to effectively achieve their mischief against the Ugandan big man, Rwanda has reached out to the AU Secretariat in Addis Ababa formally protesting the circumstances under which Sebutinde became the AU joint candidate for the ICJ job. That she for instance, never had her name submitted to the Candidatures Committee of the AU. Kigali argues that this is a fatal procedural irregularity automatically invalidating the Sebutinde candidature for the elective UN/ICJ job.

Some hardliners in the Kigali establishment are proposing that even if the AU Summit, Council of Ministers and Secretariat ignore the anti-Sebutinde red flag they are raising, and proceed to have her name presented to the UN as Africa’s choice, Rwanda should go ahead and present their candidate to the delegates at the UNGA upcoming session and do the same canvassing among members of the UN Security Council. Kigali is certain that doing such a thing will effectively split the AU’s 54 votes and deny Sebutinde the bloc vote the Ugandan big man had initially anticipated. To bounce back, the AU solidarity statements alone won’t be enough for Uganda’s Sebutinde because the mandatory requirement is that a candidate must proceed to secure absolute majorities (meaning over 50%) in both UNGA and UNSC. Because at 54 members the AU is the largest voting block at UNGA, Museveni considered it done for Sebutinde until Rwanda curiously determined to play spoiler making the entire Sebutinde project uncertain.

Since the AU Council of Ministers (where our own Sam Kutesa is a leading influence) has so far failed to resolve the Rwandan demands (which some Kampala officials have since dismissed as unreasonable), the matter will be top on the agenda during the AU ordinary Summit (for all the 54 Presidents) slated to take place in the first week of February which is basically next week. In the Council of Ministers, Kigali has managed to mobilize some members to object the Sebutinde endorsement by the AU and demand a review of the same by the Summit where Museveni can’t be sure of enough endorsements or numbers because Presidents, especially those from ECOWAS where his foe veteran Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo wields enormous influence, have in the past acted very unpredictably often reneging on things on which they had previously committed themselves in writing.

The Museveni-Obasanjo differences (involving Thabo Mbeki & other veteran leaders in SADC) is a matter Mulengera News elaborated at length in our earlier Thursday story titled “How M7 Clarity Made Uganda Foreign Policy Work for Uganda in the Last 34 Years.” Informed sources say Kigali and their backers intend to have the Sebutinde matter dominate debate during the upcoming AU Summit where the Ugandan big man will be portrayed as pushy, aggressive and ungrateful for the previous concessions the rest of AU members have been giving in favor of his country’s candidates for those international positions. As all this is happening, there is plenty of nervousness among diplomats working for Kampala with many considering the diplomatic shame resulting from Museveni’s candidate Sebutinde losing too painful to even ponder. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994 or email us at



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