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The COMESA Court of Justice held a retreat for its Judges from 10 to 12 January 2024 in Siavonga, Zambia. The retreat brought together all the twelve Judges of the Court.

The retreat was graced by several distinguished speakers, among them His Lordship Deputy Chief Justice of the Republic of Zambia – Honourable Mr. Justice Michael Musonda, Honourable Professor Samuel Rugege, Chief Justice Emeritus of the Republic of Rwanda and Principal Judge Emeritus of the COMESA Court of Justice, Honourable Lady Florence Mumba, Judge Emeritus of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Dr. Simon Ng’ona, Director of Foreign Trade in the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry of the Republic of Zambia, and Counsel Tewodros Getachew, Vice President of the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) and Interim President of the Ethiopian Bar Association.

The Registrar of the Court, Honourable Nyambura Mbatia, welcomed the Honourable Judges and guests present and wished them a good start to the year 2024.

In her opening remarks, Her Ladyship Justice Lombe Chibesakunda, the President of the Court, noted that the retreat was the second one to be held by the Court. She reiterated that the retreat was an opportunity for Judges to exchange experiences with the invited guests and learn from their experiences.

Dr. Simon Ng’ona in his opening remarks recognised the importance of timely dispute resolution to facilitate deeper regional integration. He stated that the Government of the Republic of Zambia was cognisant that a well-functioning Justice System was essential to the role of COMESA, as it provided the underlying credibility that sustains the rules-based system serving all COMESA Members. He emphasised the need to popularise the existence and significance of the Court in resolving disputes among various constituencies that need to be aware of this mechanism including the Private Sector.

Honourable Professor Justice Samuel Rugege spoke on exhaustion of local remedies in regional courts and emphasised the need to analyse and understand the application of the rule of exhaustion of local remedies as provided under Article 26 of the COMESA Treaty. He stated that the rule was not absolute but is subject to the qualification that local remedies must be available, effective, and sufficient.

Honourable Justice Florence Mumba led a discussion on the ethical standards expected from judges serving in regional and international courts. She stated that judicial officers require more than just good manners because of the nature of their work and because the people to be served, in the administration of justice, must have confidence that in adjudicating their cases, only the law, procedure and evidence on record, will guide adjudicators, and that no other influence would be entertained. Litigants must be equal before the law even in cases where the government as a state is facing a lone citizen.

Honourable Justice Michael Musonda discussed how the COMESA Court of Justice can enhance its pivotal role in the promotion of economic integration within the

COMESA Region. He noted that collaboration between the legal fraternity and the COMESA Court of Justice was not only beneficial but essential for integration.

Counsel Tewodros spoke about the interface between the Legal Fraternity and the COMESA Court of Justice. He stated that the Court needed to increase its visibility through awareness creation as its services are underutilised. He reiterated that the Court needed to be an effective commercial court and not just an administrative tribunal for COMESA employees.

The Honourable Judge President concluded the retreat by highlighting the key takeaways which included strengthening collaboration between the legal fraternity and the COMESA Court of Justice, and the importance of upholding the highest standards of judicial ethics, both in conduct and independence for the credibility of the Court’s legal systems. She also emphasised the need for increased awareness and engagement.

The COMESA Court of Justice is committed to translating the insights gained during the retreat into actionable strategies that will contribute to the advancement of the Rule of Law within COMESA.

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