Women profiles: Sanji Monageng

The ICJ continues it’s monthly profile series on women’s rights defenders with an interview with ICJ Commissioner and International Criminal Court Justice Sanji Monageng.

Justice Monageng told the ICJ that her interest in women’s rights began when she went through her own divorce and encountered the injustices that Botswana women suffered. This motivated her to pursue a career in law and align herself with the women’s rights movement that was establishing itself in southern Africa.

She became the Founder and Chief Executive of the Law Society in Botswana, a Magistrate in Botswana and High Court Judge in the Gambia and Swaziland. She was elected a Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and served as Chair of the Commission. She has been a Judge of the International Criminal Court since 2009 and served as First Vice-President between 2012-2015.

Justice Monageng commented that in Botswana, and elsewhere in southern Africa, women were at a serious disadvantage when it came to access to justice because of cultural, customary and religious restraints as well as economic inequality.

For example, up until only a few years ago women in Botswana were unable to inherit their parent’s property, on the basis of customary law, but a progressive judge was not afraid to challenge this and when this judgement was supported this led to a real change in the lives of women.

Sanji spoke of the importance of a strong civil rights movement and noted how instrumental this had been in Africa in leading the agenda to promote progressive rights protection for women. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has a Special Rapporteur on Women and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) has been hailed as the best in the world.

At the International Criminal Court (the ICC) there is a coalition of some 2,500 NGOs that work very closely with the court and have been instrumental in driving key aspects of the Court’s work including addressing sexual violence and ensuring victim and women’s participation. ‘Without civil society, without NGOs, and we have witnessed very credible civil society organisations, Sanji says, ‘we cannot move.’

However, Justice Monageng commented that the ICC has not done very well in prosecuting sexual and gender based violence so far but acknowledges that the Court is still young and that progress is being made.

The new Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has undertaken a lot of endeavours to promote this aspect of the Court’s mandate such as creating a policy on sexual violence and gender issues, establishing a dedicated unit to address these crimes and appointing the highly qualified Brigid Inder as her Special Gender Advisor. Sanji commented that it is now evident in the cases she sees as a judge that a lot more attention is being paid to sexual violence.

Justice Monageng suggests that young women interested in defending women’s rights must internalize the importance of human rights. They should start associating themselves with women’s rights organizations even if only in a small way.

Defending women’s rights is difficult work and those that are interested in this must be prepared for criticism, and other unpleasantness but this work needs to be done. ‘The world is upside down and human rights are forgotten in most instances’, Sanji says, so she looks forward to girls joining the women’s rights movement.

Watch the interview:

The series of profiles introducing the work of ICJ Commissioners and Honorary Members on women’s rights was launched on 25 November 2016 to coincide with the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women and the first day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.

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