Seychelles appoints leading Ugandan judge to its apex court

The Court of Appeal in Seychelles, that country’s highest judicial forum, has been joined by one of the continent’s leading judges who is also a prominent academic writer on the issues of gender-based violence. Judge Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza of Uganda’s apex court, was sworn in at State House this week, where she will sit with three other members of that bench, along with the court’s president. Her appointment will give the highest court of Seychelles additional depth on issues of rape and femicide, subjects on which she is an acknowledged expert.

As Africa and many other parts of the world threaten to explode with anger over the rape of children and women, femicide and other forms of gender-based violence, the highest court of Seychelles has scored an important addition to its ranks. This judge brings a particular knowledge of and sensitivity to the growing problem of violence against women from her academic work as well as her experience on the highest court of her home country.

A faculty member of the Judicial Institute for Africa (Jifa), Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza was sworn in as a member of the Court of Appeal of Seychelles this week. The judge is a member of Uganda’s Supreme Court and has been a feature of several of Jifa’s training courses. She was ceremonially inducted into her new position at State House, Seychelles. With her appointment, there are now four justices of the Court of Appeal in addition to the President, Francis MacGregor.

In addition to her judicial work, Judge Tibatemwa also has an impressive academic and scholarly background. She was the first East African woman awarded a PhD in law (from the University of Copenhagen), and the first woman law professor in the region. Another ‘first’ for this remarkable judge was her appointment as deputy vice-chancellor of Uganda’s Makerere University: no other woman had held the position before that.

A special focus of her academic work has been gender relations and violence, and the problem of both crimes committed by women and crimes against women. She authored, among others, the ‘Judicial Bench Book on Violence against Women in Commonwealth East Africa’ and ‘Criminal Law in Uganda: Sexual Assaults and Offences against Morality’.

In an earlier interview,  she says that her approach to law had always been ‘from a strictly legal perspective’. During her PhD studies, however, a new world opened to her, something she now calls, ‘a healthy mix of sociology and law’. Reflecting on the impact of that 'mix', she comments: 'It widened my perspective and had a lasting effect on my career path. Denmark made me interrogate the law in relation to societies’ cultures and norms. I no longer take the law for what it is on paper but interrogate it especially in relation to gender and the patriarchy society we live in.'

Recently, as a fellow at the University of Stellenbosh’s Institute for Advanced Study, she addressed the other fellows at a seminar: ‘We need to deal with rape as a social, not just a legal issue,’ she said. 

Her paper reflected on her research into societal definitions of rape in Uganda, and in particular, what ‘counts as consent’. Among those whose interviews she used for her study were 56 men in prison for rape. She said that society often tells women to take steps to prevent rape rather than telling men to stop raping. ‘The onus is on the woman to protect herself. This (approach) has even been adopted by institutions working to prevent rape,’ she said.

‘My findings show there is a clear acceptance that stranger rape should go to court but that if the couple are in an intimate relationship it either is not rape or even if it were accepted as rape due to use of force, it should not be reported. Rape in intimate relationships is not seen as a court matter.’

The judge already has extensive international experience, having recently been appointed to work as a commissioner by the International Commission of Jurists for a five-year term  .

We at Jifa wish her everything of the best for her term of office in Seychelles.