East African Judicial Symposium & Judges’ Retreat: Arusha, Tanzania, 7-8 August 2017

Elise Carreau agja video, International Conferences, News and Events, Video

Judicial Independence — A Foundation for Combatting International and Transnational Crime.

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On 7 August, Arusha played host to an international symposium at the Mount Meru Hotel, aimed at exploring: judicial independence, integrity and ethics in the fight against international and transnational crime; case studies on the role of the judiciary in addressing human trafficking and corruption; and the relationship between domestic, regional, and international courts in combatting serious crimes (see programme).

Following welcoming remarks by Bettina Ambach, Director of the Wayamo Foundation and Paulette Brown, Immediate Past President of the American Bar Association (ABA), the event was officially opened by Ibrahim H. Juma, Acting Chief Justice of Tanzania and Mohamed Chande Othman, former Chief Justice of Tanzania and member of the Africa Group for Justice and Accountability (AGJA). An opening conversation between US Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor and Appeals Court Judge M. Margaret McKeown, was followed by addresses by guest speakers, Navi Pillay, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and AGJA member, and Bertram Schmitt, Judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Co-convened by the Wayamo Foundation and the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ROLI), with the financial support of the German Federal Foreign Office and the United States Agency for International Development, the symposium brought together senior judges from the East African region, experts on international criminal justice, academics and practitioners from the fields of international and transnational criminal law, and members of civil society, to discuss the adjudication of international and transnational crime, human trafficking and corruption, and prosecution of core international crimes and other serious crimes.

Some of the key topics discussed were:

  • Judicial independence and ethics in the fight against transnational crime.
  • Case studies on the role of the judiciary in addressing human trafficking and corruption
  • The relationship between domestic, regional, and international courts in combating serious crime

In his opening remarks, Acting Chief Justice Ibrahim H. Juma underscored the importance of Tanzanian judges looking ahead, learning from others and seizing judicial occasions to shape and direct national laws and institutions. He noted that, “powers of individual national sovereign states operating alone cannot match the technological explosion and the growth of transnational organised crime without the concerted and collective response of the international community.”

For his part, former Chief Justice Mohamed Chande Othman acknowledged that tensions would arise between co-equal branches of government, commenting that, “the judiciary is at the vanguard but at the same time it is the most vulnerable institution.” Moreover, “judicial independence is essential for accountability in the fight against impunity.”

Judges Sonia Sotomayor and M. Margaret McKeown touched on the issue of judicial independence. Justice Sotomayor began by recounting her path from public housing to the Supreme Court, noting the crucial importance of promoting equality through education. She emphasised that judicial independence would never be possible unless judges were passionate and motivated by a commitment to the rule of law. Judging, she said, required human understanding. Judges had a  pivotal role in shaping the public’s perception of justice: trial judges who engaged directly with lawyers and litigants came to represent the judiciary to the public. If a population did not believe that its judges were independent, it would never respect the judiciary. The independence of appellate judges was reflected in their written opinions and how the rule of law –and justice– underpinned their decisions.

Judges had a duty to inspire citizens to exercise their civic responsibility, by recognising the power of their right to vote and participate in how laws were made.  She encouraged judges to make a practice of speaking to the public, in schools, hospitals and even prisons.

Justice Sotomayor went onto address the issue of domestic judges considering international law and the law of other jurisdictions, and noted that ideas had no boundaries. In practice, foreign laws and treaties affected US proceedings in a number of ways. Discussing the changing notions of privacy and the relationship between privacy and human dignity, she expressed concern that courts might not be adequately equipped with the necessary knowledge and experience to ensure that they set proper guidelines for cyber security.

In conclusion, she said that she had been deeply impressed by the judicial actors and lawyers whom she had met on this trip to Africa, and by how hard they were working and thinking about improving the legal systems on the continent. She commended the symposium participants for their dedication to justice and the rule of law.

Taking international criminal justice as her topic, Navi Pillay focused on the international criminal tribunals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, particularly the role of the prosecutor, and the experience of these tribunals in introducing international crimes to a judiciary which, in a number of cases, had not been trained in international law. She stressed the importance of implementing legislation, and urged that “genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes” be made crimes at the national level, so that states had the necessary legislation in place.

Judge Bertram Schmitt spoke about judicial independence and the ICC, asserting that the independence of judges was perhaps even more important at the ICC than in domestic courts, due to the highly political environment in which the ICC operated. He spoke about judicial independence as a state of mind; it was paramount that every judge acted independently and that he or she was entirely free from any external pressure.

In addition to the above speakers, the panellists included:

  • Justice Steven B.K Kavuma, Deputy Chief Justice, Uganda; Justice Aimé Muyoboke Karimunda, Judge of the Supreme Court of Rwanda; Justice Omar Makungu, Chief Justice, Tanzania; Emilia Siwingwa, Independent legal adviser, member of ABA ROLI Africa Council; Judge Virginia Kendall, US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois; Charity Hanene Nchimunya, CEO, African Union Advisory Board on Corruption; Aimée Comrie, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer, GLO.ACT, Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section, United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, Vienna; Stephen Rapp, Distinguished Fellow at The Hague Institute for Global Justice, former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues; Olufemi Elias, Registrar, International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (MICT), The Hague/Arusha; Selemani Kinyunyu, African Governance Architecture Focal Point, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Arusha; and Justice Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, President, East African Court of Justice.

Throughout the symposium, the panellists expressed their commitment to protecting and enhancing judicial independence, as well as increasing co-operation among judiciaries, courts, and relevant institutions, both regionally and internationally. This was particularly important in order to tackle crimes that were of relevance across borders, i.e., not  only international crimes, but also transnational crimes such as poaching, human trafficking, cybercrime, and corruption. There was widespread acknowledgement of the need to ensure sufficient political will to investigate and prosecute these crimes effectively, and ensure the independence of judiciaries and courts. Representatives from local, regional and international courts, as well as the MICT, reiterated their shared interest in working together to combat impunity and improve collaboration between institutions.

Arusha August 2017 - International Symposium

As part of the Wayamo Foundation’s commitment to spreading knowledge and building capacity among judges in the East African region, the symposium was followed by a one-day retreat on 8 August (see programme), attended by fifteen judges from national, regional, and international courts. They shared experiences in tackling transnational organised crime, building effective judiciaries and courts, and protecting the independence of their institutions. By enhancing knowledge of the judiciary’s role in addressing serious and transnational crimes, the ultimate goal is to build competency to address such crimes domestically and an understanding of the complementary role of national, regional and international courts. The retreat was a powerful demonstration of the commitment shown by both the participants and the Wayamo Foundation to strengthen the rule of law through the fostering of strong, independent and effective judiciaries.

Arusha August 2017 - Judges´ retreat


The Wayamo Foundation is an independent, non-profit organisation established to strengthen the rule of law, promote international criminal justice and foster transparency through informed journalism. Its main field of action is to build the capacity of national judicial systems that address core international crimes, transnational organised crime and transitional justice mechanisms.

In November 2015, the Wayamo Foundation launched the Africa Group for Justice and Accountability, an independent group of senior African experts on international criminal law and human rights, whose main goal is to strengthen justice and accountability measures in Africa through domestic and regional capacity building, advice and outreach, and enhancing co-operation between Africa and the International Criminal Court. The Wayamo Foundation is the co-ordinator of the Africa Group and acts as the group’s contact point and secretariat.

The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is a public service project of the American Bar Association, with over 25 years of experience in delivering international rule-of-law technical assistance and is currently implementing programmes in nearly 50 countries worldwide. ABA ROLI’s work is organized along four programme areas—Justice System Strengthening; Access to Justice and Human Rights; Transitions, Conflict Mitigation and Peacebuilding; and Inclusive and Sustainable Development—in which our efforts aim both to strengthen formal justice sector institutions and to empower citizens to access them.