Julia Sebutinde: Uganda casts off judge who backed Israel in ICJ Gaza genocide case

Julia Sebutinde: Uganda casts off judge who backed Israel in ICJ Gaza genocide case
Kampala has distanced itself from Ugandan ICJ judge Julia Sebutinde, who voted against all of the emergency measures ordered of Israel to protect Palestinians.
3 min read
27 January, 2024
The ICJ made preliminary rulings on the Gaza genocide case on Friday [Nikos Oikonomou/Anadolu via Getty]

Uganda on Friday distanced itself from Ugandan judge Julia Sebutinde, who voted against all of the emergency measures that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel take as part of the Gaza genocide case.

The 17-judge panel at the ICJ voted in favour of six provisional measures that order Israel to protect Palestinians, including punishing and preventing acts of genocide and allowing humanitarian aid into war-battered Gaza – but Judge Sebutinde voted against all of these measures.

Adonia Ayebare, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations, said in a post on X: "Justice Sebutinde's ruling at the International Court of Justice does not represent the Government of Uganda’s position on the situation in Palestine.

"Uganda’s support for the plight of the Palestinian people has been expressed through Uganda ‘s voting pattern at the United Nations."

The session at the ICJ came after South Africa filed a case with the court in December, accusing Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinian people – particularly in Gaza. South Africa and Israel made their cases to the court in public hearings earlier this month.

Israel launched war on Gaza on 7 October, and its brutal air and ground operations have killed over 26,000 people in less than four months.

South Africa had called in its case for the court to order an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, but the judges stopped short of this.

By voting against all six measures, Sebutinde outdid even the Israeli judge on the panel, who voted in favour of two of them.

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In her dissenting opinion, Sebutinde claimed that South Africa did not show that the acts allegedly committed by Israel were done "with the necessary genocidal intent and that as a result, they are capable of falling within the scope of the Genocide Convention".

Sebutinde, who turns 70 next month, is serving her second term at the court.

She has been a judge at the ICJ since 2012. Her appointment saw her become the first African woman to sit on the world court.

She was born while Uganda was fighting for independence from the British, and studied in Uganda and Scotland.

Sebutinde has courted controversy before.

In 2011, she was one of three presiding judges in the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone.

She had dissented on an order to censor Taylor's defence lawyer, who had walked out of proceedings after judges declined to accept a written summary of his client’s defence at the end of his trial. The defence lawyer's disciplinary hearing was indefinitely adjourned because Sebutinde had declined "on principle" to be present.

Her dissenting votes for the ICJ's Gaza case were slammed by many on social media, including Ugandans and other Africans.

In a follow-up to his post about Sebutinde, Ayebare said Uganda's position on Palestine is "solid".

Uganda, a member state of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which last week condemned Israel's war on Gaza.

The condemnation came at a NAM summit hosted by Uganda.

But Uganda has generally had good ties with Israel since current president Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986, with Israeli companies operating in the country.