INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: COMMEMORATING TWO HISTORICAL FIRSTS
Statement by Evelyn A. Ankumah
Executive Director, Africa Legal Aid (AFLA)
Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,
On behalf of Africa Legal Aid, I would like to welcome you to this meeting to commemorate Two Historical Firsts: the elections of Her Excellency Julia Sebutinde to the International Court of Justice, and Her Excellency Fatou Bensouda as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. 8th March has been strategically chosen for this meeting, because it is International Women’s Day. Many of you have taken time out of your busy schedules to join us to mark this milestone, a new era in international justice, and I am grateful to you for taking the time. I am delighted to see Judge Gabriel Macdonald in our midst. I knew her long ago (Gabriel Macdonald Looks Surprised), but she didn’t know me (Everyone Laughs). She was an inspiration to many of us when she was elected to The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 1993, and then became its President in 1997 (Everyone Claps).
We have entered into a new era of international justice. When the first judges of the International Court of Justice were elected in 1946, Egypt was the only African State to have a judge on the Court. It was not until 1964, almost two decades later, in the wake of decolonization that a Judge from sub-Saharan Africa was elected. His name was Isaac Forster and he was from Senegal. Nationals from other African States followed: Nigeria, Benin or Dahomey as it then was, Sierra Leone and a few others. The ICJ was looking like a Men’s Club, and because it has no term limits, many of the judges were re-elected, and then re-elected. And if the judges themselves did not go for re-election, their countrymen were reelected to take their place. In 1995, Professor Rosalyn Higgins from the U.K. was elected to the Court: a historical first for women. She would later be elected by her male colleagues to serve as President of the Court, and remained the only female judge throughout her tenure. In 2010, Xue Hangin from China and Joan Donoghue of the U.S. would be elected to join the Court.
In 2011, Julia Sebutinde was nominated by her country Uganda. This was revolutionary. Not only is she a woman from Africa, she was going up against an incumbent who was well known in relevant circles because he had served almost 18 years on the Court. Judge Koroma was a loyal supporter of Africa Legal Aid and its objectives and we will miss him. Nonetheless we are delighted that on 13th December 2011, Julia Sebutinde became the first African woman to be elected to the ICJ, after almost seven decades of the Court’s existence. One day earlier, on 12th December 2011 Fatou Bensouda was elected as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Many said it couldn’t be done. Prosecutor of the ICC was not a position for women, much less an African woman. Out of the 50 plus candidates considered for the position, the Prosecutor elect was the only woman. Dear friends, and colleagues, I have been considering this idea of “The Hague Girls” since these historical firsts. I thought it would be nice to coin this concept, and I’d like your thoughts on it. Given that The Hague is the international legal capital, “The Hague Girls” embodies international justice, in this global village, from the most remote village in Africa if the “Girl” in question stands for Peace and Justice.
Please find below a .doc version of this document: