Justice Julia Sebutinde is one of Africa’s most senior female judges and the first woman to work as a judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which she joined on February 6, 2012.
According to the ICJ website, for one to be appointed a judge at the ICJ, he or she has to be elected by members of the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council, where polling takes place simultaneously but independent of each other.
In order to be elected, a candidate has to have an absolute majority in both bodies, which often leads to much lobbying and a number of rounds of voting.
Sebutinde won garnering the fifth highest votes after Japan, Germany, China and Slovakia. The other two African contenders came in sixths and seventh respectively.
This is how the votes came in: Japan 169; Germany 160; China 155; Slovakia 150; Uganda 139; Rwanda 87; Nigeria 42; Croatia 31.
About Justice Julia Sebutinde
She was born in Uganda to a civil employee and a housewife with the Semambo surname. She attended Lake Victoria Primary School in Entebbe in 1960s. She then joined Gayaza High School and later King’s College Budo before entering Makerere University and obtained Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree in 1977.
She acquired a Diploma in Legal Practice from Law Development Center in Kampala in 1978. In 1991, she received a Masters of Laws (LL.M) degree from University of Edinburgh; UK. In 2009, in recognition of her work and contribution to international justice, she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree by University of Edinburgh;UK.
Julia Sebutinde first worked in Ministry of Justice in Government of Uganda from 1978 until 1990. After graduating from University of Edinburgh; UK in 1991, she worked in Ministry of the Commonwealth in UK. She later joined Ministry of Justice in Namibia, which had just attained Independence at that time. In 1996, she was appointed Judge of High Court of Uganda.
In 2012, Judge Julia Sebutinde made history as the fourth woman to be elected to the bench of the ICJ in over 60 years of the Court’s existence. Sebutinde’s election was remarkable for reasons beyond her gender: she was also the first woman from the continent of Africa to be elected to the ICJ, compared to the 14 African male judges who sat on that court before her.
As an international judge, Sebutinde’s appointment signaled the intersections of race, gender, geographical location, and other identities that women from non-western societies must navigate. Sebutinde’s journey to the ICJ, was as a combination of an unwavering ambition to become an international judge, and professional experiences spanning 41 years, having served as a judge and jurist at national and international levels, including as a judge of the High Court of Uganda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Sebutinde’s multiple and intersecting identities of race, gender, geography, as well as her professional experience are reflective of her journey to the international bench, a journey which she describes as ‘different threads that were woven into a kind of cloth, the kind of cloth that I now am.’
Sebutinde’s journey as the first woman from an African country to sit on the ICJ is symbolic of the increasing number of African women judges sitting on international courts since 2006.