UNCRC climate decision is a missed opportunity – A response to Muhumuza and Wepukhulu

Elsabe-BoshoffAuthor: Elsabé Boshoff 
 PhD Fellow, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo

Samrawit-GetanehAuthor: Samrawit Getaneh Damtew
Human Rights Advisor, GIZ Ethiopia and Djibouti

The UN Children’s Rights Committee (CRC) received its first Communication on climate change-induced child rights violations in Sacchi, et al. v. Argentina, et al. In its admissibility decision, the CRC confirmed that climate change has child right impacts and states have extraterritorial responsibility for harmful effects of emissions. However, the Committee declared the Communication inadmissible for failing to exhaust local remedies. In their article on AfricLaw, Muhumuza and Wepukhulu argue that this decision was the right one. We argue why the Communication should have been admissible.

Criteria for exhausting domestic remedies

The above-mentioned article argued that the decision is in line with the settled rules of exhaustion of domestic remedies. While this may be a general rule, it has exceptions. The CRC Optional Protocol in article 7(3) provides that exhaustion of local remedies is not required where the remedy is “unreasonably prolonged or unlikely to bring effective relief”.

Unlikely to bring effective relief

The extraterritorial nature of climate change and the fact that those who stand to lose the most are the least polluters, raises the question of identification of the right forum for seeking relief. While the majority of historical and current emitters are in the global North, those who are most affected by the negative impacts of climate change are in the global South. So which forum is available and accessible for citizens of vulnerable countries to hold the perpetrators of climate change accountable? In Africa, where three of the Petitioners are from, national and regional courts would not have jurisdiction over the major emitters. 

The alternative would be to bring the cases before national courts in the respondent states. However, as argued by the children in this case, “separation of powers, standing, and other grounds” are some of the reasons why cases brought before the courts of the Respondent states are highly likely to be unsuccessful. Nationals of African countries are unlikely to have standing in some domestic tribunals of European countries. In the Sacchi case, the applicants from South Africa or Nigeria cannot make use of the local remedies available in Germany or Brazil. In some jurisdictions, because of separation of powers, courts are “unlikely or unable to order the legislative and executive branches to comply with their international climate obligations by reducing their emissions”. Treaty bodies of the UN system, and in particular the CRC where children have standing, may be the only forums in which the most vulnerable victims of climate change and the mighty polluters can meet, and victims find justice.


Unduly prolonged 

By rejecting the Communication for not exhausting local remedies, the Committee is basically telling the children to litigate in the local courts of all the five respondent states. Besides the challenges already identified with this, if these children are to take on that task collectively, it may take them at least a decade, if not more, to actually seek justice in all the different territories. On the other hand the, science tells us that if urgent action is not taken to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2030, devastating and possibly irreversible damage will take place. Because every year and every action matters when it comes to climate change, exhaustion of local remedies should be regarded as an unduly prolonged procedure.

A purposive reading

Exhaustion of local remedies is aimed at giving states the opportunity to address violations at their level, “lack of awareness of an alleged violation by the State deprives it the opportunity to address such a violation”. Hence a purposive reading of this requirement would suggest that where a state is aware of the violation and takes no steps to remedy it, the state was not deprived of an opportunity to address it and exhaustion of domestic remedies should not be required. This is the case with climate change – it is not that states do not know the human implications or do not know what is required of them, they just fail to do it.

Paris agreement and state sovereignty

The above-mentioned article argued that inline with state sovereignty and based on the approach informing the Paris Agreement, “states must be given latitude in designing, adjudicating and executing their climate response policies”. However, we are already seeing the failings of the Paris Agreement approach, in that as a result of each state setting their own goals, we are on course for at least 3-4°c of warming, which is much higher than the 1.5-2°c limit above which catastrophic consequences, including for human rights, are likely to arise. Thus the “flexible, bottom-up approach” of the Paris Agreement and arguments about state sovereignty do not counter human rights obligations arising from the effects of climate change. International human rights standards exist as independent standards against which state conduct can and should be measured. A decision on the merits from the CRC would have set important guidelines to states in their policies to follow a child rights based approach to climate policies, which does not infringe state sovereignty or ability to design their own policies.

No nation in the world can single-handedly reverse the existential threat posed by climate change. Hence the right forum to seek justice for such a planetary problem is on a global scale where there is a possibility to set global precedents. Nevertheless, the response given by the Committee screams “business as usual”. In our view, the procedures of the CRC provide for, and the circumstances necessitate that this case should have proceeded to the merits stage.


About the Authors:

Elsabé Boshoff is a PhD Candidate at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo, writing on the right to development and sustainable development in the African human rights system. Elsabé is an alumni of the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa, class of 2016 

Samrawit Getaneh works as a human rights advisor at GIZ Ethiopia and Djibouti, where she focuses on ensuring the implementation of a human rights based approach in development cooperation projects, among other things. Samrawit is an alumni of the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa, class of 2016 

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The ball is in our court: Why the UN Children’s Rights Committee decision on climate change was the right one.

Nimrod-MuhumuzaAuthor: Nimrod Muhumuza
 LL.D. candidate, Dullah Omar Institute, University of the Western Cape

Khatondi-Soita-WepukhuluAuthor: Khatondi Soita Wepukhulu
Reporter, openDemocracy, Uganda

In a ground-breaking decision, the UN Children’s Rights Committee recently found that states are legally responsible for the harmful effects of emissions originating in their territory on children outside their borders. The fact that climate change is a global problem does not absolve individual states of their responsibility to reduce their share of emissions. Nonetheless, it found the authors’ complaint inadmissible for failure to exhaust local remedies. The decision was welcomed in some quarters and criticised in others.

The rules on exhaustion of local remedies within public international law and international human rights law are settled. The requirement serves as a manifestation of a state’s sovereignty – that states should be allowed to deal with a claim brought against it using the judicial and administrative mechanisms within their domestic legal order. In human rights law, exhaustion of local remedies is premised on the principle of subsidiarity. The primary avenues for remedying human rights violations are states’ judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative bodies. Only when these domestic avenues are ‘objectively’ considered unavailable, ineffective, unduly burdensome or only obtainable after inordinate delays can the complainants turn to international human rights mechanisms for recourse.

This could not be truer for climate change. States have realised that a prescriptive top-down solution to climate change is unwise and probably unattainable. This fact is acknowledged by the shift in the focus and architecture from the Kyoto Protocol to the flexible, bottom-up approach of the Paris Agreement, permitting states to set their own goals and determine how they will achieve these targets. Frustrating as it is, it is only feasible to take this approach given that responding to climate change engages the political, social, economic and cultural realms of a state.[1] There are neither easy fixes nor one-size-fits-all solutions.


Climate change has been described as a “super-wicked” problem. In order to avoid accusations of a legitimacy deficit, states must be given latitude in designing, adjudicating and executing their climate response policies. Indeed, over 1,000 climate change-related cases have been filed worldwide in the last six years. (For comparison, just 800 similar cases were between 1986 – 2014). Some, like the Urgenda, Sharma, Neubauer and Earthlife Africa, have either yielded incredible victories or cleared pathways for future climate change litigation. Beyond the reflection of the urgency with which climate change must be dealt with, these cases demonstrate the confidence and faith that many advocates and activists still have in their domestic legal systems to address this problem. The UN has acknowledged in a 2020 report that children and youth play a central role in demanding a safe climate and forcing a positive change through national courts.

While the vast majority of climate change litigation to date has taken place in developed countries, the last five years have seen an increase in climate change-related cases in developing countries. Unfortunately, only a handful of those cases have been filed in Africa. Of the few that have been decided, two cases in Kenya and South Africa determined that the absence of a climate change impact assessment was a material flaw in the process leading up to the award of licenses for the construction of coal-fired power plants.

The decision in Saachi is, in our view, the correct one. It reasserts states’ sovereignty, allowing them to find the best formula, appropriate for their circumstances, to the climate crisis. States should not lose sight of the overarching goal of limiting global warming to well below two, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. This decision is a welcome development for a continent attempting to transition to clean, renewable energy without impeding its social and economic development goals. As countries, particularly in the global south, continue to enact climate change laws, policies and action plans, there will inevitably be debate about their adequacy and how to improve them. Domestic remedial mechanisms still have a major role to play in those efforts.

[1]               Bodansky et. al. who argue that climate change poses a ‘complex, polycentric, and seemingly intractable policy challenge’ with an environmental, economic, and ethical dimension. It implicates the technological, scientific and religious sections of any society. See Bodansky et. al. ‘International Climate Change Law’ 2-7.

About the Authors:

Nimrod Muhumuza is a doctoral researcher and LL.D. candidate at the Dullah Omar Institute, University of the Western Cape

Khatondi Soita Wepukhulu is the East Africa reporter for openDemocracy’s 50.50 team.

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Decoding the ignorance of the world towards rising terrorism in Africa: A new Jihadist battlefield?

Shelal-Lodhi-RajputAuthor: Shelal Lodhi Rajput
BBA LL. B (Hons.)) candidate at Symbiosis Law School, Pune, India


Some of the greatest concerns for humanity right now, apart from the ongoing pandemic are the problems of climate change, ecocide and the rise of terrorism and jihadist outfits. Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, which has its roots in the Middle East and South Asia, has taken center stage. While these violent religious extremists constitute a small percentage of the population, their danger is real. The International community has not been completely able to neutralise ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). In 2015, ISIS expanded into a network of affiliates in at least eight other countries. Its branches, supporters, and affiliates increasingly carried out attacks beyond the borders of its so-called caliphate. Now once again a ‘new Syria’ is being built in West Africa but the world is ignoring it, world media is not highlighting the plight of the people. 

Terrorism: An ignored aspect for Western Africa

Every time we talk about terrorism, we often limit ourselves to certain territorial aspects, geographies, and countries. Whenever someone utters the word terrorism we usually thinks about the countries that suffer from terrorist attacks frequently (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria etc.) or countries harbouring them (e.g., Pakistan). We don’t talk about Nigeria where 18 people were killed in a Boko Haram terror attack and 300 school girls were abducted in February, 2021. The International community hardly talk about Mali, where 33 soldiers were killed in a terror attack on 21 March 2021 and we completely forget to talk about Niger where 137 civilians were killed in a terror attack on the same day. We hardly see any international headlines capturing these attacks. Also, we hardly see any news on the subject matter covered by international media on Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, or Mali. The list is long but the crux here is that we are ignoring that terrorism is on the rise in Africa in an unprecedented manner.


West African countries have been witnessing a devastating surge in terror attacks. According to Verisk Maplecraft report, the last quarter of 2020 alone saw a 13% increase in terror activities in the West African region. The inaction on the part of the global community will have an impact on future security, stability and peace for the rest of the world. If urgent action is not taken and international organisations remain mute spectators, then history will once again repeat itself.  Hence, there is an urgent need to talk about the rise of Jihadist and Terrorism in West African countries especially.

A new battlefield for Terrorists: Towards a new Islamic State Caliphate

West Africa is now being referred to as a new battleground for Jihadists due to an extraordinary spike in terror activities. The War on Terrorism that started in Syria has now moved to Africa. The situation in West Africa is extremely volatile. According to the United Nations, as of August 2020, one million people fled Burkina Faso; in Mali, 240,000 people were internally displaced and 592 people have been killed and in Nigeria, 489,000 people were forced to relocate and 1,245 people were killed.

It is also concerning that the Southern part of African is increasingly becoming a target for terrorists.  The latest terror activity shows that Africa is turning into a Jihadist battleground as it was witnessed in Mozambique, where Islamist militants had taken sieged of an entire town, killed hundreds of people and gained control of a multi-billion-dollar gas project. Terrorists from the Islamic State groups are trying to create a new caliphate in Mozambique.

Jihadists have long been active in Africa. Terrorism on the continent of Africa has been rising sharply over the decade. Non-state (terrorist groups, militias, rebel groups, etc.) have increasingly targeted civilians in their campaigns of violence. The blame for the deaths, mounting violence and a gateway to doomsday for West Africa is on Jihadist terror groups. Most of such groups have ally, associations and marriage of convenience with international terror outfits such as ISIS, al Qaeda and other global terrorist organisations. This is causing further upheaval in West Africa and posing a new danger to global peace.

From where all it started in Africa: Reason behind Jihadist groups

The recent rise of Jihadists in Africa started in Algeria in 1992, when the Algerian military staged a coup to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front from winning the first democratic elections in the country.  The decision of the military pushed the country into a deadly civil war that lasted almost a decade and came to an end in 2002. In 2007, these Islamist fighters built their own organisation and called themselves Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM: Al Qaeda in the West). This group was formed with the aim of overthrowing the Algerian government and setting up an authoritarian regime of an Islamic state. They began funding and making new allies with smaller militant groups in neighbouring Nigeria like “Boko Haram”, the most lethal terror outfit of the world now. Since May 2011, Boko Haram has killed 37500 people and displaced more than 2 million people and has turned 244,000  Nigerians into refugees.

Is their driving force  just an ideology and a goal to establish an Islamic State? The answer may be controversial here because while ideology is the driving force behind these terror organisations, corruption, poverty, unemployment, and other factors cannot be overlooked as to why these groups are growing on a daily basis. The terror outfits make their money from different illegal and immoral activities like abduction, ransom, looting banks, imposing taxes among other things.  For example, according to  Vicki Huddleston, France  ‘paid $17 million ransom to free the French hostages in Mali. 

Are we losing the continent of future: Concluding Remarks

We all know that terrorism is undeniably a global problem, and countries all over the world, have been plagued by it for decades. But what is the world doing about it as day by day they are expanding their geographical presence in Africa? Most of the world leaders are making self-interested calculations, with international leaders focusing more on West Asia owing to its strategic relevance, but neglecting Western Africa would cost us more in terms of security concerns in the future. We must not forget that Africa continues to contribute to the global economy in a variety of ways, including 90 percent of the world’s platinum supply and about 9.5 percent of global oil output, among other things.

While the world is looking the other way, the continent of the future is being lost to terrorism as terrorists are continuously hustling to take control of the region. Once again, Mozambique is the latest example to refresh our memory regarding growing jihadist outfits and terror organisations in Africa.  Perhaps economic concerns will force world leaders take necessary steps to curb down terrorism in Africa as the human rights concerns seem not to bother world leaders.  


About the Author:

Shelal Lodhi Rajput is currently pursuing law (BBA LL. B (Hons.)) from Symbiosis Law School, Pune, India. He loves to explore and decode the socio-legal aspect pertaining to international relations at national and global level along with other multidimensional interests in the field of law. 

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Will South Sudan be ready for its first democratic elections comes 2023?

Garang-Yach-JamesAuthor: Garang Yach James
South Sudanese Political and security analyst and PhD Student, University of Juba, South Sudan



This article discusses key requisite benchmarks for the success of first democratic elections towards the end of the Transitional Period in 2023. The author argues that the conduct of credible democratic elections is conditional on certain processes being successfully completed. The article posits that in lieu of faithful implementation of these processes, the conduct of first national elections in South Sudan is likely to birth mock democracy and would be a recipe for recycling of conflict. The article finally gives three recommendations as a path out of the series of transitional governments.

Requisite benchmarks for democratic elections in South Sudan

Since independence, South Sudan has never conducted general elections in its capacity as a sovereign State. Instead, the country has experienced multiple communal conflicts and civil wars which threatened prospects for democratic elections. In attempts to establish peace and security, the two agreements namely; ARCSS and R-ARCSS  expected to transition the post-conflict state to democracy have been signed but none of the said agreements has transitioned the state to secure and peaceful South Sudan. To do this, the Revitalised Transitional Government of Nation Unity( RTGoNU) stands a chance of leading a successful transition provided that the following necessary benchmarks are achieved.

Stabilization of security

Barely two years after assuming its place and recognition among the United Nations as a sovereign and an independent state, South Sudan descended into a dreadful war that claimed over half a million lives, displaced about 4 millions refugees and  IDPs to the neighbouring countries and former UNMISS run POC sites.  Since then, the security situation in the country continued to deteriorate until the signing of 21 December 2017 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) on 12 September 2018. Three years since the signing of the R-ARCSS and its subsequent stalled implementation, the security situation in the country remains highly fragile albeit holding of the Permanent Ceasefire.

The R-ARCSS requires the RTGoNU to implement the Transitional Security Arrangements (TSA) that involve the security sector reforms and the formation and professionalization of the national army. Owing to the difficulties surrounding the TSA, the parties agreed to train 83,000 Necessary Unified Forces (NUF) to be deployed antecedent to the completion of Security Sector Reform (SSR) and reunification of the remnant forces in the cantonment areas as required by the R-ARCSS.

Up to date, the first batch of the NUFs are into two years of their training and the RTGoNU is yet unable to graduate them despite the critical importance of their deployment to ensure security across the country. The RTGONU cites lack of firearms and other military logistics necessary for the new force. It is worth stating that South Sudan is under United Nations embargo that extends to 31 May 2022 according to UNSC RES/ 2577/ (2021).  The Embargo which prohibits it from procuring arms.

Because the RTGoNU has not made any meaningful headways toward unifications of forces, Disarmaments, Demobilization, Reintegration (DDR), training and graduation of forces, and their eventual deployment. There is still apprehension from some of the former fighting forces, expressed mistrust and justified fears for possible breach of the terms of R-ARCSS and return to war despite repeated “no return to war” assurances from the President and the First Vice President.

Endemic communal conflicts present another angle of security complexities that may inhibit the preparations of electoral activities at the subnational level. Comprehensive Disarmaments, Demobilization, Reintegration and Reinsertion (DDR-R) of the ex-combatants to the societies become another critical requisite for peaceful co-existence.

President Kiir had earlier argued that the scheduled 2023 general elections will be conducted as required by the agreement. In what appeared to be a response to the President, the First Vice President(FVP) and SPLM-IO leader argued that “for us to have fair, free, transparent elections, you must have security forces who will protect the state, its people and that will not interfere with the electoral process.” The FVP further expounded that for elections to happen, the TSA  must be completed in the shortest possible period.

For the conduct of democratic elections towards the end of the Transitional Period in 2023, the security situation must be stabilized, and the environment made conducive for the conduct of free and fair national elections. Stabilization of the security is therefore, condition sine qua non for the conduct of credible democratic elections in post-conflict South Sudan.

Repatriation of refugees and return of IDPs

The millions of South Sudanese refugees in the neighbouring countries and others internally displaced by the December 2013 and July 2016 wars could constitute important electorates in the upcoming national elections. The R-ARCSS requires the repatriation and resettlement of war displaced IDPs, reparations of the war affected individuals, provisions of basic services to the returnees and security assurances for their safe stay in their constituencies.[1] Credible elections cannot be carried out in oblivion of the glaring fate of the prospective voters displaced from their villages. It is worth highlighting that there are many counties and Bomas especially in the war-affected regions which were vacated during the war. These areas are still uninhabited even with the formation of the RTGoNU and return of relative calm thanks to the R-ARCSS.


Since it is said that every vote counts, credibility and inclusivity of the elections should mean participation of refugees and IDPs. The government lacks adequate resources considering competing priorities. Meanwhile, the donors and humanitarian agencies have not supported the return and resettlement of the refugees and IDPs.

Criticality of the Permanent Constitution Making Process to elections

The RTGoNU is mandated by the R-ARCSS to initiate and oversee the Permanent Constitution Making Process in the country. The Constitution Making Process(CMP) is the transitional period activity that is so central and prime to the reforms stipulated in the R-ARCSS. The agreement purports to address the root causes of conflict by effecting reforms that deliver services and social justice. One of the causes of the current conflict and social disorder in the South Sudanese society is the “power-people relationship” which is inadequately defined in the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 (as amended) (TCRSS). The Permanent Constitution is going to be a formidable legal framework that may enable democratic dispensation in the post-conflict South Sudan. The current TCRSS, 2011 (as amended) is in the center of dispute and bears blame for the commissions or omissions responsible for the 2013 conflict. The Permanent Constitution is envisaged to define people-power relations; regulate executive powers, clearly define rights and duties and make the government accountable to its people inter alia. As a supreme legal framework of all other laws and the bedrock of democracy, the Permanent Constitution is a requisite for elections in a transitional society.

To date the CMP lags behind schedule yet, its completion is a requisite for the election related laws, critical reforms in the security, economic and financial, rule of law sectors and legislative branches of the government. According to the R-ARCSS, the CMP is to take 24 months from the formation of the RTGoNU. In practice, the process is to be completed before the end of the Transitional Period which is 36 months from the date of RTGoNU’s  formation, that is 1st day of  27 months of the Transitional Period.  It is a yardstick of democracy and development in a country.  Delays in its completion is an implicit delay of the elections related laws that must be aligned to the constitution to permit the conduct of the general elections. Given the resource and time factors, it is therefore, not possible for the TGONU to beat the timeline of the permanent CMP and carry out elections as stipulated in the R-ARCSS comes 2023. The Permanent Constitution becomes crucial to the process of credible elections, in particular, and transition to democracy in general.

Review of election related laws and reconstitution of National Election Commission

The National Constitutional Amendment Committee (NCAC) is tasked with the drafting or reviewing of national legislations especially the national security laws so that their provisions conform to the terms of the R-ARCSS. The changes in the security sector are deemed to bring about reforms that the R-ARCSS endeavours to introduce in order to democratise the sector. The amendments would open up political space for politicians and citizens alike to engage in political activities prior and during elections.

Open and free political space legitimizes the electoral processes and gives credibility to the organizing body to press ahead and conduct free and fair elections. The NCAC is to review the Political Parties Act 2012 and align it to international best practices for the conduct of  democratic registration of political parties. This is followed by the reconstitution of the Political Parties Council not later than 4 months into the Transitional Period. On the same note, the National Election Act, 2012 should have been amended to conform with the provisions of the Agreement not later than 7 months into the Transitional Period. The review process should have been followed by reconstitution of the National Election Commission (NEC) in a period not later than one year after the commencement of the Transitional period. Then within 60 days before the Transitional Period ends NEC should organize elections in accordance with the provisions of the permanent Constitution.

All the above critical benchmarks for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections have not been initiated and yet the remaining time for these bulk of activities to be completed is running out. It is my argument that the election processes cannot commence when critical reviews of the election related laws are not done before the Transitional Period ends.

Conduct of population census

Although it is not a critical benchmark for the conduct of democratic elections, the conduct of population census is very important for  allocation and demarcation of electoral constituencies. The last population census was conducted in 2008 under united Sudan before secession of South Sudan. That census gave way for the 2010 Sudan general elections in which the Transitional National Legislature was elected based on constituencies determined by the 2008 population census. Eleven years later, the country needed its first ever population census to determine its population and allocate electoral constituencies. The current Reconstituted Transitional National Legislature (TNL) is composed of 650 members from former TNL and new appointees from other parties to RTGoNU. The Permanent Constitution, the reviewed election Act 2012 and the would-be new population census will determine the new constituencies and the commensurate representatives to the national legislature.


Given the rationale argued in this article, it is highly improbable that South Sudan shall head to democratic elections towards the end of the Transitional Period. Hurrying the process in order to beat the deadlines and check the boxes in the R-ARCSS matrix is likely to yield unwanted results. The parties to the R-ARCSS, the regional blocs such as Intergovernmental Authority for Development and African Union and the TROIKA should not be so concerned with meeting timelines but ensure the strict implementation of the critical benchmarks. The R-ARCSS provides opportunity for constitutional and institutional reforms so that if its terms are implemented in letter and spirit, they might provide an opportune democracy, stable and long-lasting peace in South Sudan.


  • The TNL should endeavour to review and pass the election related laws and reconstitute the National Election Commission to set a stage for elections preparation.
  • The parties to the Agreement and the International Community should not hurry the implementation of the critical activities of the Agreement such as TSA, CMP, repatriation of the refugees and IDPS, conduct of population census and national elections when proper arrangements have not been completed.
  • In the event that key benchmarks have not be accomplished, it is in the best interest of peace and stability of the country to extend the Transitional Period till such a time that security is stabilized, permanent constitution is made, and necessary laws are reviewed and passed to ease the conduct of credible elections and transition to democracy.

[1] R-ARCSS (2018)  Article, 1.20.7


About the Author:

Garang Yach James is a South Sudanese Political and Security analyst and a PhD Student at the University of Juba. The title of his PhD thesis is “Human security transcends national security in the horn of Africa: A comprehensive analysis of state’s manning safety infrastructure in South Sudan” He can be reached on email: yachgarang1978@gmail.com

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What type of federalism should South Sudan adopt and why?

Joseph-Geng-AkechAuthor: Joseph Geng Akech
South Sudanese human rights lawyer and PhD candidate, University of Pretoria, South Africa



This article spotlights existing debates under the on-going constitutional design process on the type of federalism South Sudan should adopt. It is a debate with varying and potentially divisive perspectives. Dominant proposals in these debates are territorial and ethnic federalism. I join this debate with an open mind, and I therefore try to refrain from taking sides. This article thus tries to bring to fore, the underlying arguments in both perspectives and makes three recommendations to break the impasse. The first option is to conduct a referendum for the public to decide while the second calls for a scientific comparative study on performances of both territorial and ethnic federalism. The third calls for open and transparent public debates on the type of federalism South Sudan should adopt.


One of the thorny issues yet to be settled under the constitutional design process of South Sudan is the form of federalism to be adopted under the ‘permanent’ Constitution. The Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) only stipulates that South Sudan shall be governed on the basis of federalism. It leaves the form of federalism to be decided during the constitutional design process. This raises the question; what form of federalism should South Sudan adopt under the ‘permanent’ Constitution and why? The answer to this question is not easy. If it were, the authors of the R-ARCSS would certainly have dealt with it during the negotiation process. I do not claim to offer solutions to this question, either. I simply try to illuminate and broaden prevailing conversations among South Sudanese that federalism is indeed a potential dilemma in the constitution building process.

Whenever it is used here, federalism refers to a system of government in which power is shared within autonomous constituent parts of a State and which allows greater autonomy to those States. Federalism comes from Latin foedus, which means covenant among tiers of a government. It is a complex system of governance that requires careful study to avoid what Professor Yonatan Fessha calls the ‘original sins of federalism’ in referring to the situation in his home country, Ethiopia. It is said that federalism can stem from two sources – coming together or holding together. It is also instructive to note that debates on federalism are not new, they predate South Sudan’s independence and were only crystalised under the R–ARCSS. But this blog article is not about federalism per se, rather I focus on the impasse of choosing the model of federalism for South Sudan.

The arguments

The first argument pitches ethnic federalism as the ‘best’ governance model for South Sudan. Ethnic federalism may be characterised as a system of government in which ethnic groups or nationalities govern themselves as a people in their own territory. Ethiopia is popularly known and legally constituted as an ethnic federation.

Opponents argue that ethnic federalism might not be suitable not least because it has ostensibly failed in Ethiopia (where it has been experimented) but also because it might complicate an already divided society in South Sudan. They cite Kokora (Bari word for division) as a possible repeat risk including subsisting toxic nationalism that might undercut much needed national cohesion and unity.

Proponents on the other hand contend that South Sudan should adopt ethnic federalism because the country is already ethnically set up. This argument finds favour from the impression that the country’s local administrative units – Bomas, Payams and Counties – are almost already ethnically set up. In other words, some of these local government units are made up of almost homogenous ethnic groups. This is somewhat the same in some States with only one ethnic group.


However, constitutionally (in terms of the Transitional Constitution), South Sudan is governed under a decentralised system of government which might change to a federal system as stipulated under the R-ARCSS. It is important to note that the country is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic comprising of 64 nationalities. Some of the ethnic groups are hostile to each other whilst others share common dialect such as the Bari speakers in Central Equatoria State, which adds to the complexity of implementing ethnic federalism.

The second dominant argument supports territorial federalism which is a form of governance that establishes federal states on the basis of territory rather than ethnic make-up. Proponents of this perspective argue that South Sudan is in fact already territorially federal. They say that the current 10 States except for certain areas with a special governance framework (the Administrative Areas) could represent an option to build territorial federalism.

Arguments expose complexity of federalism

If there is one thing emerging from these debates, it is that no argument wins squarely. There are pros and cons on both sides. First, ethnic federalism, for instance, might intensify competition in resource distribution where resource-rich States might feel uncomfortable sharing with those without. Second, ethnic tensions are already high and they might even become more pronounced under ethnic federation. Third, ethnic federalism might  weaken a federal government and could introduce risk of secession as it has been threatened in Ethiopia by estranged groups.

All these complexities notwithstanding, debates on federalism are not new. For instance, historian Douglas Johnson writes extensively on it. He in fact recounts how federalism was a key demand of various political parties prior to independence of the Sudan in 1956 and further crystallised under the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement.[1] Similarly, the R-ARCSS commits the country to a federal and democratic system of government that reflects the character of South Sudan. But neither of these historical and contemporary debates settle the type of federalism for South Sudan. Since this question cannot be glossed over under the permanent constitution building process, I propose three options to settle the debate.

Some suggestions for resolving the impasse

First, let there be public conversation on federalism as a constitutional question. More recently, conversation and dialogue on federalism were supported by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) under the auspices of the Ministry of Federal Affairs of the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU). The aim of such dialogues was to provide an avenue for South Sudanese political and constitutional actors to engage with various forms and experiences of federalism. But due to unknown reasons, these dialogues were discontinued but one hopes they resume soon.

Second, it may be democratic to consider a constitutional referendum in which South Sudanese freely vote on the type of federalism they wish to be governed under. Admittedly, a referendum has its own limitations including possible gerrymandering by the majorities.

Third, the Ministry of Federal Affairs should commission scientific studies on various forms of federalism to give people a chance to make an informed choice.


The question of federalism is a difficult one. What I tried to do in this article only highlights the inherent dilemma in choosing the ‘suitable’ form of federalism within the constitutional design framework. My view is that the form of federalism eventually adopted may be the break or make factor of the ‘permanent’ constitution. It should therefore be subjected to careful and transparent popular debate.

[1]   D Johnson ‘Federalism in the history of South Sudanese political thought’ (2014) Rift Valley Institute 6.

About the Author:

Joseph Geng Akech is a South Sudanese human rights lawyer and doctoral researcher in constitution building. His doctoral thesis is entitled ‘foreign influence and the legitimacy of constitution building in South Sudan’. He is an alumnus of the LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation at the Faculty of Law, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. He can be reached on e-mail: josephgakech@gmail.com

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Propos conclusifs et leçons importantes (intervention en Anglais et Français)/Concluding remarks and important lessons (intervention in English and French)

Author: Frans Viljoen
Professeur de droit international des droits de l’homme, directeur du Centre des droits de l’homme, Faculté de droit, Université de Pretoria
Professor of international human rights law, Director, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

Merci beaucoup Monsieur le modérateur,

C’est un réel honneur et important privilège de prononcer quelques mots de clôture de cette conférence de vernissage virtuelle de l’ouvrage du Juge Albie Sachs.

Telle une icône des droits humains et une source d’inspiration, la notoriété du juge Albie Sachs dépasse les frontières nationales. Le Juge réunit les gens de divers horizons dans le monde. La traduction de son ouvrage, L’étrange alchimie de la vie et de la loi rend son œuvre initiale, The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law ainsi que les arrêts de la Cour constitutionnelle sud-africaine accessible à un public assez large. Pour nous à la Pretoria University Law Press (PULP), l’accès libre et la grande accessibilité aux œuvres scientifiques sont très importants. Nous sommes, ainsi donc, très heureux de vernir cet ouvrage aujourd’hui. Nous espérons que cela accroitra le dialogue judiciaire entre les juges des pays du monde Anglo-Saxon et ceux de droit civil et aidera à briser les clivages hérités de la colonisation, en Afrique en particulier.

Let me continue in English. We at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria have since 2000 been running the Masters in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa (HRDA). As a teacher on this programme, I am always struck by the great difference in approach of our students from the Francophone background, compared to students with an Anglophone background and seeped in a Common Law legal culture. It is as if we live in two very different scholarly worlds in Africa. Scholarly works on a particular theme, including the African human rights system, often develop along parallel lines, with only rare intersecting moments in the form of an occasional cross-reference.  Judicial decisions similarly reflect distinctly different communities of practice that often seemingly do not really communicate with, or even take notice of, each other.  What judicial dialogue has there for example been between two main post-1990 African constitutional traditions, that of the Constitutional Courts of Benin and South Africa?  Judge Sachs’s L’étrange alchimie de la vie et de la loi provides access to important excerpts of the South African Constitutional Court in the French language. We trust that today’s event represents a small step to confirm that this dialogue is really possible and draw attention to the need that it should be encouraged and cultivated.

We take note of Professor Hajer’s suggestion of ensuring greater visibility, greater access to the story of Judge Sachs, and, by consequence, of the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. We will do our best to see to what extent we can make that happen, to the extent that a video or film of this nature has not yet been made.

It is my task is to congratulate everyone involved, and I do that with great pleasure. The thanks should in the first instance go to the author, Judge Albie Sachs. He has left us with a wonderful gift, the original work, The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law  — now also in this translated version. Today, he did two things that judges seldom do. He lifted the veil of the personal ruminations that judges go through in preparing and thinking through a judgment. He also, at least to some extent, opened the curtain to provide a glimpse into the process of  collective decision-making, when a number a judicial officers come together and seek to find a common approach. He also shed some light on how he found himself articulating minority judgments in particular cases. We thank you very much, Judge Sachs, for this gift and the legacy you have left us with. It was wonderful to listen to our colleagues. We heard measured thinking analysing the themes that Judge Sachs had exposed in this book. The author’s thoughts and words inspired poetic presentations. Two panellists, who are both professor-judge, were brought to reflect on their own processes of arriving at decisions. I think it was a very rich discussion. We thank our panellists for having done justice to the themes of justice, dignity, equality and freedom that transpire from this book.

Warm congratulations to Judge Sachs, also for receiving the Officier de la legion d’honneur award.  We celebrate with you and in the spirit with which you dedicated your award. We hope and trust that you will still walk a long road; that we will long benefit from your wonderful, poetic, principled engagement with issues of justice and that we will see this book really go places, around the continent of Africa, be read by many, be appreciated and be a spark for bridging not only the language divide but also the divide between humans at many levels and layers.

Cette intervention est également accessible sur YouTube en cliquant sur ce lien

About the Author:
Prof Frans Viljoen is the Director of the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria. He has published numerous articles dealing with international human rights law, and the book International human rights law in Africa.

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« L’étrange alchimie de la vie et de la loi » du Juge Albie Sachs : Commentaire

Babacar-KanteAuteur: Babacar Kanté
Doyen honoraire de l’UFR des Sciences juridiques et politiques de l’Université Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis (Sénégal)


La lecture de ce livre du juge Albie Sachs, intitulé «L’étrange alchimie de la vie et de la loi », m’a donné l’impression de tenir un miroir dans la main pendant tout le temps que je le parcourais. L’ouvrage m’a en effet renvoyé à des questions existentielles sur moi-même en ma qualité d’ancien juge constitutionnel de mon pays, le Sénégal, et sur le système judiciaire de l’Afrique de l’Ouest dont nous avons hérité. L’analyse convaincante et séduisante de l’auteur ne laisse pas le temps à l’esprit de vagabonder.  En définitive, j’ai trouvé dans le livre du juge Albie Sachs, comme il le dit lui-même quand il découvre la confirmation de ses idées chez d’autres auteurs, une source de réconfort. Rien que pour cette raison, l’auteur mérite mes remerciements et félicitations.

Après ma nomination au Conseil constitutionnel, je me suis posé des questions qui, en raison de leur naïveté peut-être, ou de leur caractère philosophique ou théorique, n’ont pas trouvé à mon sens suffisamment d’écho auprès de la plupart de mes collègues de l’Afrique de l’Ouest. Je me suis alors retrouvé dans une forme d’impasse intellectuelle et de solitude, que le juge Sachs m’a enlevée.

Je me suis en effet demandé, dès mon installation, quelle était ma « raison d’être » comme juge constitutionnel, quelle était la finalité de la fonction du juge constitutionnel, d’où parlait le juge constitutionnel ? Je suis ravi de constater que le juge Albie Sachs s’est non seulement posé les mêmes questions après sa nomination à la Cour constitutionnelle au terme d’un parcours hors du commun mais, qu’en outre, il y apporte une réponse, à certains égards, très proche de la mienne.

Le projet de Traité constitutionnel européen contenait plus de 500 fois le terme de « valeurs ». C’est une preuve, s’il en fallait, de l’attachement du vieux continent à ses valeurs fondatrices. Le temps ne m’a pas permis de compter le nombre de fois où l’auteur emploie les termes «dignité», « égalité » et « liberté ». Mais, à n’en pas douter, la protection et la promotion de ces trois valeurs structurent sa pensée et constituaient le cœur de métier du juge constitutionnel qu’il a été.

Pour ma part, évoluant dans un contexte dit (souvent à tort me semble-t-il) de transition démocratique, qui se caractérise par une anonie sociale et une instabilité chronique de nos institutions, je pensais que l’enjeu de la justice constitutionnelle était, fondamentalement, de garantir la stabilité de nos sociétés politiques. Comme le soutenait en effet Frederic Worms dans son ouvrage sur « Les maladies chroniques de la démocratie », la violence constitue aujourd’hui la plus  grande menace contre l’aspiration à la démocratie. Cette violence trouve une de ses sources dans la lutte contre l’inégalité et l’injustice sociales, telles qu’elles sont vécues ou perçues par les citoyens.

En mettant l’accent sur la dignité comme principe matriciel ou finalité lointaine de la justice constitutionnelle, le juge Albie Sachs réconcilie le droit et la justice à travers la primauté de l’humain. Je partage totalement cette philosophie. Je considère en effet que le droit en général, le droit constitutionnel et la justice constitutionnelle en particulier, devraient remplir une fonction irénologique, c’est-à-dire de pacification de la vie en société. Cependant, il ne peut atteindre cette finalité qu’en faisant de la promotion de la liberté et de l’égalité un principe axiologique, comme le suggère le juge Sachs. Mais si la recherche d’un fondement explicatif et justificatif (la dignité, la paix) par le juge de sa décision est nécessaire, sa mise en œuvre n’en reste pas moins  difficile.

Je me suis aussi demandé si le système judiciaire auquel appartient mon pays permettait d’atteindre ce que je considérais personnellement comme un idéal. A la lecture du livre du juge Albie Sachs, j’ai eu la confirmation, là aussi, de la part d’un éminent membre de la doctrine organique, de ce que je pressentais :  l’importance accordée aux droits économiques et sociaux des citoyens par les systèmes juridique et judiciaire de l’Afrique du Sud. C’est un signe de progrès du système sud-africain par rapport à celui des pays de l’Afrique de l’Ouest. Dans nos régimes, le contentieux quantitativement le plus important porté devant le juge constitutionnel est relatif, encore et toujours, aux élections avec, en toile de fond, l’interminable et irritant débat sur la durée et le nombre de mandats du Président de la République. C’est, paradoxalement, le signe, contrairement à ce que l’on pense dans certains milieux d’ailleurs, d’une absence de vitalité de la démocratie.

La faiblesse de nos systèmes réside en effet, du moins en partie, dans le fait que les citoyens n’ont généralement pas un accès direct au juge constitutionnel.  C’est une sérieuse lacune dont souffrent nos systèmes d’organisation de la justice constitutionnelle. Elle empêche effectivement les citoyens de faire valoir personnellement et directement leurs droits, contrairement à ce qui se passe en Afrique du Sud.


La protection juridictionnelle des droits économiques et sociaux par le juge constitutionnel au profit de leurs bénéficiaires, pose cependant un redoutable problème juridique, que l’auteur n’élude d’ailleurs pas. Il y consacre des pages d’une profondeur philosophique et d’une épaisseur scientifique admirables.  Reconnaître une force contraignante à ces droits est une chose, en faire jouir concrètement leurs bénéficiaires en est une autre; le juge constitutionnel  n’ayant pas de pouvoir d’exécution forcée. L’attachement viscéral du juge Albie Sachs à la dignité de l’individu suffira-t-il à résoudre cette difficulté ? La qualification de certains de ces droits, d’une particulière sensibilité en Afrique, comme l’accès au logement ou aux soins ainsi qu’il en donne des exemples, d’objectifs de valeur constitutionnelle est peut-être une piste à explorer. De même la technique du juge allemand, tendant à imposer aux pouvoirs publics des obligations positives, constituerait peut-être un début de solution. Mais ce n’est pas gagné d’avance.

Toujours est-il que la prise en compte de ces droits, pour faire de la justice constitutionnelle une justice au bénéfice du citoyen, est une des nouvelles exigences de la démocratie. Cette approche mérite une plus grande considération en Afrique de l’Ouest. J’espère que tous ceux et toutes celles qui auront la chance de lire cet ouvrage éprouveront la même sensation que moi et qu’ils ne laisseront pas tomber le miroir.

Je souhaite que ce livre du juge Albie Sachs se retrouve entre les mains de tous les juges constitutionnels notamment africains, quel que soit par ailleurs le contexte dans lequel ils évoluent. Il constitue en effet une source d’inspiration non seulement du point de vue des valeurs humaines qui devraient animer la justice constitutionnelle surtout, mais aussi des techniques juridiques destinées à les mettre en œuvre. Sa traduction en français est une initiative rare qui mérite d’être saluée. Elle contribue à briser les barrières qui séparent, d’une part, les espaces anglophones et francophones du continent et, d’autre part, les systèmes de civil law et de common law, à un moment où le droit constitutionnel s’internationalise et se globalise.

Cette intervention est également accessible sur YouTube en cliquant sur ce lien.

A propos de l’auteur
Babacar Kanté est Doyen Honoraire de la Faculté des Sciences Juridiques et Politiques de l’Université Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis (Sénégal). Il est ancien vice-président du Conseil constitutionnel du Sénégal

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Vernissage de l’ouvrage du Juge Albie Sachs intitulé « L’étrange alchimie de la vie et de la loi »

Gerard-NiyungekoAuteur: Gérard Niyungeko
Professeur à la Faculté de droit de l’Université du Burundi (Bujumbura)


J’ai lu avec beaucoup d’intérêt le bel ouvrage du Juge Albie Sachs intitulé « L’étrange alchimie de la vie et de la loi». Il m’a été demandé, au cours de cette cérémonie de vernissage, de partager mes réflexions sur les thèmes clés traités dans l’ouvrage, comme ils se rapportent à mon expérience de théoricien et praticien du droit constitutionnel et des questions de justice constitutionnelle.

Il est bien évident qu’en 10 minutes, il n’est pas possible de traiter de tous les thèmes abordés par l’auteur. J’ai donc choisi de m’attarder uniquement sur certains aspects qui font particulièrement écho à ma propre expérience de juge constitutionnel dans mon pays, à savoir : le poids de la charge du juge constitutionnel; la solitude du juge; les doutes du juge; l’influence des expériences vécues par le juge dans la formation de son jugement; la part de l’intuition et de la logique juridique dans l’élaboration d’un jugement; et le rapport entre le droit et la justice.

Le poids de la charge du juge constitutionnel

Il faut souligner en effet que ce poids de la charge est très lourd. Le juge constitutionnel n’est pas un juge comme les autres. Il est le juge par excellence du pouvoir politique. Le pouvoir politique est au cœur même des affaires qui sont soumises au juge constitutionnel, qu’il s’agisse des questions de compétence des pouvoirs exécutif et législatif, ou qu’il s’agisse des questions des droits de l’homme que l’exécutif et le législatif doivent respecter et protéger. Par ailleurs, les décisions que rend le juge constitutionnel ont toujours un impact sur les institutions de l’Etat et sur la société toute entière, même lorsqu’à l’origine la question qui lui est soumise concerne un cas individuel. Ces observations, pertinentes en toutes circonstances, prennent une importance plus grande, lorsque la Cour constitutionnelle, opère, comme c’était le cas dans mon expérience personnelle, dans un contexte de crise politique profonde ou même de guerre au Burundi. Dans tous les cas et dans ces conditions, il n’est pas étonnant que la fonction du juge constitutionnel soit particulièrement difficile, comme le souligne pertinemment le Juge Sachs.

La solitude du juge

Le juge Sachs observe avec raison, parlant des juges de sa Cour constitutionnelle que «…bien que nous puisions tous à la même source et, en dépit de la collégialité entre nous, être juge entraîne de manière inhérente un sentiment de solitude ». Certes le juge n’est pas seul dans la mesure où il fait partie d’un collège à qui reviendra en fin de compte la décision finale. Mais il est seul à certains moments du processus de formation de la décision, puisqu’aussi bien il doit donner son opinion sur la décision à prendre. Dans notre système par exemple, après les audiences, la Cour se retire pour délibérer en termes généraux sur la décision à prendre, et charge le juge rapporteur désigné dès le début du traitement de l’affaire, de rédiger un projet de décision qui servira de base à la poursuite des délibérations. Même si l’on n’est pas juge rapporteur, l’on doit à toutes les étapes de la délibération apprêter, arguments à l’appui, sa propre position, en vue de la présenter, de la défendre et de la confronter à celles des autres collègues. Ce travail solitaire est inévitable, sauf si l’on est un juge paresseux qui préfère attendre et s’aligner sur les positions de l’un ou l’autre de ses collègues, ce qui naturellement n’est pas digne d’un membre de la plus haute juridiction du pays.

Les doutes du juge

Parlant de l’écriture d’un jugement, le juge Sachs observe que « [l]e réel voyage d’un jugement débute avec les idées les plus exploratoires et provisoires, et passe au travers de grandes périodes de doute et de pensées contradictoires, avant de devenir un exposé confiant censé exclure toute erreur » (c’est moi qui souligne).

Contrairement à ce que le lecteur d’un jugement clair et limpide pourrait croire, la préparation d’un jugement n’est pas un processus linéaire qui se déroule constamment avec toute la certitude qui apparaît dans la décision finale. Face aux positions juridiques contradictoires des parties à une affaire, face à ce qu’il considère personnellement comme étant juste ou injuste, face à l’impact que sa décision pourrait avoir sur les institutions et la société, le juge est en permanence assailli par des doutes sur la meilleure position à prendre pour rendre une décision qui soit conforme à la fois au droit et au sentiment qu’il a de la justice. J’ai bien aimé la métaphore d’un collègue à lui que le juge Sachs rapporte, et qui disait qu’il « se torturait » avant d’arriver à une décision.

L’assurance dont le juge fait montre en aval, dans sa décision finale, n’a rien à voir avec les doutes, les hésitations, les tergiversations, les changements de position qui ont pu intervenir en amont. Bien de jugements naissent d’un accouchement douloureux.

Le doute est d’autant plus fort que l’impact des décisions du juge sur l’Etat et la société est plus important, spécialement lorsque le pays traverse une crise politique profonde, comme c’était le cas dans mon expérience personnelle.

L’influence des expériences vécues par le juge dans la formation de son jugement

Ici, le juge Sachs pose une question que les juges ne se posent pas souvent, celle de savoir dans quelle mesure les expériences vécues personnellement par un juge influencent ses décisions judiciaires. Il répond sans ambages que « les expériences passionnantes de la vie s’insèrent inévitablement dans l’élaboration de décisions judiciaires, pour en venir aux prises avec le raisonnement sans passion ». Il ajoute : « Lorsque je repense à mes années dans la magistrature, je n’ai aucun doute que mes expériences de vie se sont infiltrées dans ma conscience de juge, les unes de manière évidente, les autres de manière plus mystérieuse ».

Je crois aussi que, sans qu’il s’en rende nécessairement compte, tout juge subit une telle influence. Je crois que ce sont ces expériences qui développent chez le juge en tant qu’être humain une certaine sensibilité personnelle sur certaines questions qui peuvent s’introduire dans le prétoire, et en particulier ce qu’il est convenu d’appeler les questions de société. Faut-il s’en inquiéter ? Pas nécessairement, dès lors que le juge ne fait pas prévaloir sa sensibilité personnelle sur les règles de droit qu’il a la charge d’interpréter et d’appliquer correctement.


La part de l’intuition et de la logique juridique dans l’élaboration d’un jugement

Le juge Sachs pose une autre question importante: quelle est la part de l’intuition et celle de la logique juridique dans l’élaboration d’une décision judiciaire.

Si je comprends bien les notions qu’il introduit ainsi, l’intuition, qu’il appelle aussi la « découverte », renverrait à cette première impression qu’un juge a, après avoir lu pour la première fois le dossier d’une affaire dans son ensemble, de ce qui devrait être la bonne décision à prendre, en se fondant sur le bon sens et éventuellement sur ses expériences passées. Quant à la logique juridique formelle, qu’il appelle aussi la « justification », elle fait référence, comme il le dit explicitement à « certains principes, règles et normes reconnus, pour arriver à une conclusion qui est cohérente avec ces principes, règles et normes ».

Une fois cette distinction établie, si le juge Sachs considère que l’élaboration d’une décision de justice fait recours aux deux à la fois, il s’empresse de préciser ce qui suit : « Une découverte qui ne peut pas être justifiée n’est tout simplement pas acceptable. En effet, la justification est basée sur des obligations légales, sur la raison renforcée par une nécessité logique. Par conséquent, on n’a pas le choix entre suivre son intuition – ce sentiment intense émergeant de l’intérieur et basé sur l’expérience d’une vie entière – et suivre le processus du raisonnement formel. Les lois du raisonnement formel m’ont parfois contraint à abandonner des intuitions initiales, même les plus fortes, ce qui me laissait dépité ».

Le juge Sachs a tout à fait raison de privilégier en fin de compte la logique juridique formelle. Car le destinataire de la décision du juge n’est pas le juge lui-même. Les destinataires de sa décision sont les parties concernées et le public en général qui ne sauraient être convaincus que par des arguments objectifs et pas par le sentiment intime du juge de ce que serait la bonne solution. La solution intuitive ne saurait donc prendre le pas sur la solution rationnelle. La raison finit par avoir raison de l’intuition quand la solution intuitive s’écarte de la solution rationnelle. Sans doute ne faut-il jamais brimer son intuition – elle vient à nous qu’on le veuille ou pas, mais elle ne peut être utile que si elle est appuyée par des arguments solides qui s’adressent à la raison.

J’ajouterai que parfois les juges peuvent tomber dans le piège de l’intuition. Il en est ainsi lorsqu’un juge, dès sa première lecture du dossier de l’affaire, se fait une idée définitive de la solution à adopter, et s’efforce par la suite à lui trouver à tout prix des justifications rationnelles. Une telle démarche ne peut que conduire à un mauvais jugement.

Dans mon expérience personnelle, j’ai eu tendance à mettre de côté ce que me dit mon intuition, de procéder à la recherche d’une solution qui repose sur des arguments rationnels, quitte en fin de compte à réaliser parfois, avec bonheur, que ce que me suggérait mon intuition n’était pas une mauvaise idée.

Le droit et la justice

Il est une autre question qui se pose à tout juge, je crois. C’est celle des rapports entre le droit et la justice. Est-ce qu’une bonne application du droit permet toujours d’atteindre l’idéal de justice. Le droit a-t-il toujours pour finalité la justice ? Le droit produit-il toujours la justice ? A toutes ces questions qui en réalité n’en constituent qu’une, nous savons que la réponse est « Non » ! Il arrive en effet qu’un juge, tout en ayant pleinement conscience qu’il a correctement interprété et appliqué la loi, garde le goût amer d’une décision qui n’est pas vraiment juste. Il a fait son travail qui consiste à dire le droit, mais il n’est pas heureux de ce qu’il a décidé. A l’inverse, lorsque le droit et la justice se rencontrent dans une décision judiciaire, le juge peut avoir le sentiment d’être l’homme le plus heureux du monde. Derrière l’impassibilité du juge, peuvent ainsi se cacher des sentiments de satisfaction ou d’insatisfaction que le public aura de la peine à percevoir ou déceler.


Dans ce bel ouvrage, le juge Sachs expose, si on y regarde de près, sa philosophie personnelle de la fonction de juge en général, et de juge constitutionnel en particulier, philosophie dans laquelle d’autres juges peuvent se retrouver au moins partiellement et pour l’essentiel. Un des mérites de cet ouvrage est précisément d’attirer l’attention des juges sur le fait que le métier qu’ils exercent quotidiennement au mieux de leur capacité sans se poser trop de questions, repose sur des fondements philosophiques qui peuvent faire toute la différence entre un bon et un mauvais système judiciaire. Nous le recommandons donc vivement à tous nos collègues, juges, avocats, universitaires et autres membres de la profession juridique.

Cette intervention est également accessible sur YouTube en cliquant sur ce lien.

A propos de l’auteur
Gérard Niyungeko est un Professeur de droit à l’Université du Burundi (Bujumbura). Il est l’ancien président de la Cour constitutionnelle du Burundi et un ancien juge et président de la Cour africaine des droits de l’homme et des peuples. Il est un membre associé de l’Institut de droit international.

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Mot et expérience de la traductrice de L’étrange alchimie de la vie et de la loi

Juge-Christine-SchurmansAuteure: Juge Christine Schurmans 
Ancienne Conseillère, Cour d’appel de Bruxelles et Présidente honoraire du Conseil de la concurrence (Belgique)


Bonjour à tous ! Un grand bonjour de Kigali !

Vous me voyez émue de participer à la présentation du livre « L’étrange alchimie de la vie et de la loi », en langue française. J’avais déjà rencontré Albie Sachs lorsqu’il m’a demandé si j’aimerais traduire son ouvrage et nous avions eu de nombreux échanges. Le connaissant déjà, j’étais certaine que j’allais vivre une belle aventure en découvrant sur papier ses pensées sur l’injustice, celles sur la justice, et en traduisant ses réflexions sur le rôle du juge en général, sur celui d’une Cour constitutionnelle en particulier. Mais cette aventure a dépassé toutes mes attentes ! Elle a pris aussi beaucoup plus de temps et je m’en excuse.

Bien que traduire ne soit pas mon métier, mon objectif était bien entendu de traduire le plus fidèlement possible. Le problème était que je m’arrêtais à chaque page pour réfléchir, méditer, faire des recherches, apporter quelques précisions historiques ou géographiques utiles pour le lecteur. Je restais aussi en dialogue avec Albie Sachs dès que j’avais un doute ou une question et l’auteur s’est montré très patient !

Chers tous, cet ouvrage est unique !

D’abord parce que Albie Sachs n’est pas seulement un témoin de la période de l’apartheid et de la transition vers un régime démocratique respectueux de l’égalité. Victime du système injuste, il gardait espoir, il s’est battu pour une transition sans violence, il s’est imprégné des souffrances, craintes et espérances de chacun, a inspiré une justice fondée sur la découverte de la vérité et la réconciliation et enfin, il a accepté d’assumer la fonction de juge à la Cour constitutionnelle d’Afrique du Sud, chose totalement inattendue pour lui. Il s’agit d’une très haute fonction, non pas en raison du prestige qui l’entoure mais bien en raison du poids de la responsabilité qui allait peser sur lui et sur ses collègues. L’ouvrage est aussi unique car il est rare, même exceptionnel, que les juges s’expriment sur la façon dont ils vivent cette expérience de juger. Le juge Sachs s’exprime et il prend même la liberté de partager ce qu’il a ressenti en tant que juge et en tant qu’homme, à l’occasion de cas concrets dont il a eu à connaître.


Bien souvent, en Europe en tout cas, le juge est perçu comme un personnage distant qui ne s’exprime qu’au travers de ses décisions, qui ne dévoile pas ses émotions et ses doutes et encore moins les circonstances dans lesquelles ses idées surgissent et se contredisent, l’étincelle qui a fait jaillir l’ébauche d’une solution, le long travail de vérification et de motivation. Le juge est très souvent craint. Les expressions de la langue française en disent long à ce sujet. Ne dit-on pas, lorsque quelqu’un doit comparaître devant un tribunal, une cour, pour être jugé, qu’il est traîné devant le juge ? Et lorsque le juge a décidé sur le litige, qu’il a tranché ?

Avec cet ouvrage, Albie Sachs rompt la glace entre le juge et le justiciable. Lui n’est pas un personnage placé sur un fauteuil surélevé qui proclame la vérité judiciaire. Il se présente avec modestie comme quelqu’un qui doute et hésite beaucoup, qui rit et pleure, qui se méfie de lui-même, de ses premières idées ou encore de l’influence que peuvent exercer dans la recherche de la solution, son propre vécu ou ses idées personnelles de ce à quoi devrait ressembler un monde meilleur. Il cherche la solution dans la loi et la ratio legis, mais aussi dans des concepts universels tel que celui de « la dignité humaine », irréductible. Il s’agit d’une alchimie emprunte d’une grande rigueur. Albie Sachs plaide aussi dans cet ouvrage, de façon remarquable, pour une forme de justice centrée sur la reconnaissance des faits et les excuses, une justice qui rétablit mieux l’estime de soi et celle que l’on peut attendre des autres que ne le fait la justice qui sanctionne et est rendue au terme de débats sur l’accusation et la défense. Je suis d’accord avec lui.

L’ouvrage est d’une grande utilité pour le public. Il ouvre la porte sur un monde souvent inconnu. Sa lecture est inspirante pour les juges, cette grande communauté de juges à laquelle Albie Sachs est fier d’appartenir lorsqu’il lit une décision courageuse. Elle est fascinante pour les juges qui comme moi, travaillent dans un système dit « régalien » où les juges qui délibèrent ne peuvent s’exprimer que d’une seule voix, sans même pouvoir indiquer si la décision est prise à l’unanimité ou à la majorité. Or, je suis certaine que la justice présente une plus grande humanité lorsque les juges qui sont en désaccord sur la décision ou sur la motivation, ont la possibilité de faire connaître leur propre opinion. Une plus grande humanité envers celui ou celle qui a perdu et qui désire comprendre. Je suis aussi convaincue que ce système encourage la qualité des décisions et place le juge devant sa propre responsabilité mieux que ne le fait le système régalien.

En lisant le livre, on comprend aussi que de par le monde, les juges sont confrontés aux mêmes questions, à des questions qui n’ont pas encore été débattues dans les parlements et que la loi ne règle pas ou règle mal. Ceux qui imaginent que les juges pourraient être remplacés par des robots n’ont pas encore lu l’ouvrage de Albie Sachs: les robots ne font pas tac/tic mais seulement tic/tac ! Je conclus en disant, cher Albie, qu’aborder en profondeur tant de thèmes et partager tant de riches réflexions en si peu de pages, relève du miracle de cette étrange alchimie dont tu n’as sans doute pas encore révélé tous les secrets…

Cette intervention est également accessible sur YouTube en cliquant sur ce lien.


A propos de l’auteur
Christine Schurmans est ancienne conseillère à la Cour d’appel de Bruxelles et présidente honoraire du Conseil de la concurrence (Belgique)

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The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law by Albie Sachs – French Edition

Emmanuel-de-GroofAuthor: Emmanuel de Groof 
Former Albie Sachs’ Law Clerk, South African Constitutional Court

Bonjour tout le monde, particulièrement au monde francophone. C’est un honneur de pouvoir co-introduire ce vernissage du livre L’étrange alchimie de la vie et de la loi du Juge Albie Sachs. Aujourd’hui, ce livre a toute sa pertinence. 

More than 10 years ago, in 2008, I had the honour to work as a law clerk for Albie Sachs. My work as a clerk was double. On the one hand, I worked with and for Albie in doing research for the book published in 2008, The strange alchemy of life and law with Oxford University Press. On the other hand, I did my regular work as a law clerk on the cases that were then pending. One idea is very central to the work I could then do, together with other law clerks, in Albie Sachs’ chamber: in French we would say, ‘de la confrontation des idées jaillit la lumière’. It’s the simple idea that by confronting ideas – by communicating, by debating, by being honest – you will get, not to an absolute truth but at least closer to an idea of justice and truth.

It was a real honour to work together with Albie Sachs during his very last term. In spite of the obvious hierarchical difference, he always asked the opinion of his colleagues and clerks. This was more than 10 years ago. So, I was even younger than I am now. This is just to show the respect Albie had, has and always will have for younger people and for different opinions. I think this is also the central idea of the book. Why? The book centers around the idea of dissenting and concurring opinion. In essence, this is of course a confrontation of ideas. But larger than this, the translation of this book is also about the dialogue between continents, between judges of various countries, and even between the Global South and the Global North. I’m mentioning the Global South first as in this book it is quite obvious that judges from the Global North – in this instance, Christine Schurmans – are learning from judges from the Global South – in this instance, Albie Sachs. This dialogue between judges about the very structure and symbolism of justice – going to the depth of what justice means – is relevant for all legal practitioners, including lawyers and judges but also, I would dare to say, diplomats and politicians.


Un tout dernier mot pour remercier en premier lieu Albie pour cette opportunité merveilleuse et pour le féliciter pour sa médaille d’honneur bien méritée (ce n’est pas à moi de le dire) et pour remercier les éditeurs, Oxford University Press & Pretoria University Law Press (Lizette Hermann en particulier), et Christine et Claire l’Heureux-Dubé qui a également contribué à ce livre.

Cette intervention est également accessible sur YouTube en cliquant sur ce lien.

About the Author:
Emmanuel de Groof is an international lawyer with experience since 2006 in litigation, adjudication and decision-making resp. in (int’l) law, constitutional law, and multilateral diplomacy; 5-year academic research experience; and considerable experience in university management.

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