Julia Sebutinde Elected Deputy President of the International Court of Justice Amidst Controversial Stance on Gaza Conflict

On February 6, 2024, Judge Julia Sebutinde, originating from Uganda, was elected as the Deputy President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands. This significant appointment marks a notable moment in the international legal community, given Sebutinde’s distinguished career and her unique stance on several key issues that have recently come to the forefront of international law.

Judge Sebutinde has been a prominent figure in the realm of international law, known for her principled and often singular positions on contentious matters. A recent example of her independent stance was her refusal to endorse emergency measures against Israel, requested by South Africa, amid the conflict in Gaza. She was the only judge out of the 17-member bench of the ICJ to vote against all six resolutions that were passed by the court in a case that mandated Israel to take measures to prevent genocide activities while engaging with Hamas militants in the Gaza region.

Her decision drew international attention, diverging from the majority opinion which supported the implementation of immediate measures as requested by South Africa in the lawsuit. This divergence not only showcased her independent judicial reasoning but also sparked debate over the role of individual judges in the consensus-driven environment of international adjudication.

The Government of Uganda publicly distanced itself from Judge Sebutinde’s decision, indicating a difference in perspective between her stance and the East African nation’s position on the Gaza conflict. This situation has ignited discussions on social media platforms, with some questioning why she chose not to support the measures proposed by South Africa.

Despite the controversy, the ICJ announced on Tuesday that Judge Sebutinde had been elected as the Deputy President of the court for a three-year term, a testament to the confidence her peers have in her capabilities and judgment. This election comes after more than a decade of service on the ICJ bench by Sebutinde, during which she has presided over several high-profile cases, including war crimes trials such as that of Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia.

Alongside Sebutinde, Judge Nawaf Salam of Lebanon was elected to succeed Joan Donoghue as the President of the ICJ, highlighting a period of transition and renewal at the top echelons of the court.