The International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently witnessed a significant divergence of opinion among its judges over emergency measures requested by South Africa against Israel concerning its actions in Gaza. In a landmark decision, the court, composed of a panel of 17 judges, voted overwhelmingly in favor of six provisional measures aimed at protecting Palestinians in Gaza. Notably, an Israeli judge supported two of these measures.
However, the stance of Ugandan Judge Julia Sebutinde stood out as she was the only member of the panel to vote against all proposed measures. This decision has sparked considerable debate and drawn attention to Judge Sebutinde’s distinguished career and independent judicial philosophy.
Julia Sebutinde, at the age of 70, is a renowned Ugandan jurist with an illustrious background. Serving her second term at the ICJ following her re-election on November 12, 2020, she has been a pivotal figure on the court since March 2012. Her election to the ICJ marked a historic moment as she became the first African woman to hold such a position. Prior to her role at the ICJ, Sebutinde made significant contributions as a judge of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a position she assumed in 2007.
In addition to her judicial responsibilities, Sebutinde also holds the position of chancellor at Muteesa I Royal University, an institution under the auspices of the Buganda kingdom. Her multifaceted career and contributions to international law and justice are widely recognized.
The Ugandan Government, in response to Sebutinde’s recent vote at the ICJ, has issued a statement emphasizing that her decision reflects her personal views and should not be construed as representing the official stance of the Republic of Uganda. This clarification comes at a politically sensitive time for Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who has recently assumed the chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and hosted a meeting featuring the G77+ China. The NAM, under Museveni’s leadership, issued a pro-Palestinian communiqué, aligning with the broader perspective of the global South and challenging western-dominated worldviews.
Charles Onyango-Obbo, a prominent Ugandan journalist, commented on the situation, noting the delicate balance of national and international politics. He highlighted that while Sebutinde’s role at the ICJ is not as a direct representative of Uganda, her decisions inevitably intersect with the broader political landscape, where “everything is politics.”
| The Government categorically clarifies that the position taken by Judge Sebutinde is her own individual and independent opinion and does not, in any way, reflect the position of the Government of the Republic of Uganda. pic.twitter.com/ETdmG0vvZe
— Uganda Media Centre (@UgandaMediaCent) January 27, 2024