13 February 2018

Somalia: World Court Elects Its First Somali President

Photo: Jeroen Bouman/UN
International Court of Justice at The Hague

Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf has become the first Somali to lead the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands.

"I am humbled by this election. And I feel that it actually shows the trust placed in me by my colleagues. That's why I'm extremely grateful to them," he told VOA's Somali service by phone.

"I hope that I will be able to meet their expectations and to perform the responsibilities entrusted to me in the best way possible — to show them that they have actually made the right choice in electing me as their president."

The 15-member ICJ is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations. It issues final and binding rulings on disputes between states and advises the U.N. Yusuf, 69, a native of the Somali port town of Eyl, studied at Somali National University, the University of Florence and the University of Geneva. He will be the third African to lead the court.

"It is a very heavy responsibility. And, of course, the challenge is to ensure first of all that the credibility, the respect in which the court is held by the international community, is preserved," he said.

"We always try to improve the methods of work of the court and to adapt our methods of the work to the needs of a changing world. So that is what I will try to do. And, of course, the third challenge is to keep the members of the court united and to ensure that judgments which can be respected by those to which they are addressed will be issued by the court, as has been its tradition for the past 72 years."

Upcoming cases

Yusuf's leadership will be tested immediately. Among his first cases is a dispute between the U.S. and Iran over the freezing of Iranian assets inside the U.S.

"We have 14 cases which are pending, and which, of course, concern all types of disputes between states," he said, including disputes about environmental protection, boundaries and diplomatic immunity. "We have been extremely busy for the past 10 years as a court, which shows the increase in the growing trust that the international community has in the World Court, in our court. And we are extremely happy with that development."

Another case that will be closely watched in East Africa is a maritime boundary dispute between Somalia and Kenya.

Role of nationality

Yusuf said his nationality will not influence his work on the case. "My nationality does not matter. And, actually, it is the statute of the court which says that the judges to the World Court are elected irrespective of their nationality. ... So, my mission is to be impartial, to be objective and to apply the law. And for all cases, that's what I do."

Yusuf has been on the court since 2009 and had previously served as the court's vice-president. He will serve a three-year term.

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