So the 2011 Annual Jurists' Conference has wrapped up. It was a complete whirlwind. I'll try my best to sum up what happened over my time there, but I can say for sure that it was jam-packed with so much work, and so much intense issues, and so much beautiful weather, that it would be difficult to capture the whole thing in one post. I've added some pictures, but even with the extra thousand words they add, it's still probably not enough.
The drive to Malindi started at 6am. Bleary-eyed, we bundled into the van, to start our 8-hour drive to the coast. In Nairobi, it was a chilly 24 degrees. As we moved east, it got progressively hotter, until we reached Malindi, which was closer to 35 degrees. It was entirely unnecessary for me to bring most of the clothes I did.
On the drive, we passed rally cars entered in this race. Most were obviously in pit stops, and just hanging out. But after few kilometres later, we hear a loud motor in the background, and one rally car passes us. Driving on the highway. In traffic. Well, turns out our driver is better at navigating the Kenyan traffic than this rally car racer, and we overtake him. Driving in a van loaded with hundreds of pounds of books, merchandise, and me (and I'm fairly substantial). Eventually the rally car pulled away from us, since it (a) was a straight stretch with no oncoming traffic, and (b) it was in a race, and we weren't. That was pretty much the highlight of the day. We arrived (safely, no donkeys), unloaded our cargo, sweated, and went to bed.
[This happens today, but I don't find out until later]
Day two started with a run on this beach:
The run was good. Sweaty, of course. But well remedied by a dip in the ocean. The Indian Ocean is unbelievably warm. It was like a salt water bath. For those of you who know me, I loved it.
After the morning exercise, we went back to the turtle bay resort, and set up the conference room, and got all the publications, merch table and administration desks set up.
For anyone who has done event coordination in the past (my past history is with this), you'll know that everything takes longer than expected, that it's uncharacteristically stressful to do simple things like put t-shirts on a table, and you are guaranteed to finish the day late, grumpy. This was no different, except it was in a tropical paradise. So I didn't stay grumpy for too long.
After my morning ritual (run, swim in the fantastic ocean, somehow persuade myself to stop), the conference finally starts. And starts relatively on time. Over 100 jurists from Kenya and abroad attend the event, so the conference is at full capacity. The conference is themed on Electoral Reforms, looking at various areas of elections (including things like Electronic voting, security sector reform, constitutional guarantees, among other topics), with a particular focus on the challenges and issues leading up to the 2012 Kenyan elections.
The first, opening talk was given by the (Ret.) Honourable Albie Sachs. Of course, crisis! We didn't prepare a 'bio' for him, so our chairman had nothing to introduce him with. I scrounged up a bio for him, terribly handwritten, and passed it to the ICJ Kenya chairman, as he was standing up to begin the introduction. I think it went well, but I'm sure I raised a few eyebrows with one of the facts I included in the bio: Mr. Sachs was the deciding judge in the landmark South African Case where it was found that defining the legal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. I thought that was pretty awesome, but not necessarily everyone in Kenya agrees with me.
But otherwise, his bio reads like a movie plot. Freedom activist from age 17, human rights defending lawyer during apartheid, exiled from South Africa because of his work, survived an assassination attempt, but lost part of his arm, helped enact the new South African Constitution, and was appointed to the Constitutional Court as a judge by Nelson Mandela. Read more here and here. Inspiring talk about his struggles, his successes, and what he considers the essential facets of successful electoral reform.
I ran into him over tea, and (very) briefly chatted with him. As is my M.O., the conversation was awkward and full of uncomfortable pauses. But, really, I'm a bit rusty in the 'making small talk with renowned human rights defenders' department, so give me a break.
The conference continues. The focus today was on making sure elections were in line with the Constitution. But, to be honest, my focus was not on the conference today. This was the day that things really heated up about the Al Bashir Arrest Warrant issue. The press were around, and our Executive Director, George Kegoro, had one foot in the conference, and one foot trying to deal with the media about the fallout of the case. If you aren't aware of what happened after the Kenyan High Court decided to issue the arrest warrant against Al Bashir, well, read here.
Needless to say, in addition to the conference, there was a lot of scurrying around and research going on about the Al Bashir Decision. It was also a major topic of discussion, especially since the judge that issued the decision was also attending this conference (which may not have been the most savvy move). But it made life in small talk land a lot easier for me, as everyone had an opinion about the matter, and once you break the ice, well, lawyers like to talk.
It's a pretty fascinating issue. Kenya has already tried to get out of its obligations with the International Criminal Court, when it found out 6 prominent Kenyans were to be tried at the ICC for connections to the human rights violations that occurred during the 2007 post-election violence. The ICC arrest warrant against Al Bashir is the first time that the ICC has attempted to prosecute a Head of State, which raises all sorts of interesting issues about State Immunities and similar things. Of course, Al Bashir categorically rejected the arrest warrant, claiming it is a western plot to control African countries. In a sense, he's partially correct, since (up until the Khmer Rouge case), the ICC has solely brought charges against African nations. Based on that, Sudan, Kenya and other African Union members agreed not to cooperate with the ICC. Hence the reason Kenya tried to rescind its obligations when the 'Ocampo 6' where brought to the ICC.
Now, with this court case, the ICC arrest warrant is given legal traction in Kenya. In effect, Kenya has created an arrest warrant for Bashir, based on the ICC arrest warrant, and if he ever ventures into Africa again, he will be arrested. The judge has essentially ruled that Kenya's international legal obligations, ensured by the new Constitution and the International Crimes Act, trump issues of diplomacy and informal agreements within the African Union.
It's an important development, and really shows just how much of a political agitator one small civil society organization can be.
At the end of the day, there was an organized boat ride for all the participants. We went around in dhows and glass-bottomed boats, riding around near mangrove forests, and just generally relaxing after a long day. The boats took us to Sudi Island, where we were greeted by a sandy paradise, Dawa, and some of the most amazing grilled meats, fish, prawns and octopus I've ever had.
The last day of the conference was very relaxed. A young Zimbabwean lawyer, who I befriended over a bunch of dawas, gave a nice talk about security sector reform. Afterwards, a bunch of IT people talked about the possibility of e-voting. The lawyers were all very excited about this. I was especially excited about the solar-powered laptop that cost KSh 23,000.
I went for an afternoon swim, and thoroughly enjoyed dinner, drinks and chats with colleagues. I was sitting at a table with three judges from Swaziland, including Judge Thomas Masuku, who was fired for allegedly 'insulting' the king of Swaziland, and other trumped-up charges (most of which were dropped in an incredibly irregular disciplinary hearing). The other judges, out of solidarity, resigned or went on strike. It's actually a massive deal, but I never even would have known about it if I hadn't met them. Interestingly, the conversation definitely wasn't heavy - mostly we spent dinner joking about some of the ridiculous cases of failed communication in court. Very lawyerly, but still hilarious.
Woke up way too early, and drove back home. The drive took 8 hours, but because of traffic jams, once we got to Nairobi, it took me 4 hours to get home. I'd rather be back in Malindi.
For now, though, back to work. Christmas is coming, and other exciting things/people!