Yesterday Justice Solomy Balungi Bossa won a gruelling round to the International Criminal Court for a nine-year term. She joins Justice Julia Ssebutinde at The Hague whose term at the International Court of Justice runs through 2019. Both victories have partly come at the hands of an understated, but highly effective diplomat at our mission in New York.
Bossa’s ascension has been unusual. She is one of the judges who have been “canned” in Uganda for her fiercely independent views. There are more than a few of these who have been passed over in promotions to the higher courts in Uganda.
In Mugabi vs Kampala District Land Board (2012) a satellite case filed at the height of the battles between the new KCCA guard and the old guard, she saved the Kampala District Land Board at a time when the sitting board had been locked out of office and its furniture and files strewn on the streets.
She has been a jurist and part-time judge at the African Peoples Court on Human and Peoples Rights that sits in Arusha, Tanzania even though Uganda has not yet fully acceded to all relevant articles of the treaty establishing it allowing Ugandans to file cases against the government.
Early this year, Bossa endured humiliation when the JSC panel interviewing contestants for the post of Deputy Chief Justice refused to interview her after coming back to Uganda cutting short her ICC campaign.
Julia Ssebutinde never fared better. She remained at the High Court even though she rose to the ICJ. There are a few notable others, including one reluctantly promoted to the Court of Appeal after serving as a Chief Justice in the Seychelles.
Assuming a high profile at the ICC carries responsibilities for Uganda, which up to recently, contemplated departure from the global criminal court. Burundi quit the ICC this year and other countries notably South Africa and Kenya have been very vocal in trying to leave the court. For Kenya whose current President and Deputy President have been tried and cleared by the ICC, it is a trickier situation. After maligning the court, its processes saved them for another day.
This is not to trivialise the shameful acts by the court’s first prosecutor, Moreno Ocampo, whose conduct brought the court into disrepute trying to be independent prosecutor, kingmaker and broker at the same time. Ocampo’s actions constituted an unacceptable interference into Kenya’s domestic politics which tarnished the court’s reputation.
It is expected that Bossa’s election will be a moderating influence on Kampala, which is struggling to identify more with its muscular past to solve domestic unrest.
Kampala’s international image has been tainted by the brutal use of force in Kasese-Rwenzori region last year, which resulted in the death of scores of civilians. But for the capitulation of the Opposition politicians who made “noise,” but never filed requisite motions to commence investigations, the matters in Kasese reached the gravity of being referred to the ICC. In addressing this problem, government must clearly come out first and address the current leadership of police that has promoted a culture of using violence with impunity against unarmed persons.
In employing instruments of torture, police have drawn the ire of the Uganda Human Rights Commission. The second voice must come from the Judiciary, which continues to entertain cases sanctioned by DPP, where persons mutilated and crippled by torture, are wheeled into court to answer cases in violation of their right to a free trial.
The complaints are mounting each passing day, including the case of a defilement suspect brought into Justice Margaret Mutonyi’s court room while paralysed or the suspects recently awarded damages by Justice Margaret Oguli Oumo over the nose of the DPP, who forgot that the Constitution prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. The Judiciary has been intolerably weak in this area.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law
and an Advocate. kssemoge@gmail.com