Felistas Mushi

9 Apr 2015 16:53

Ms. Felistas Mushi, a former Resident Magistrate in Tanzania and a former Assistant Trial Attorney for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal, made a speech at the Regional Committee and National Committee meeting of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) on 9 January 2015, in Kampala, Uganda. The following is a portion of her speech at the meeting.

You might have a lot of questions for us [the ICGLR National Committee For Prevention of Genocide Tanzania]. I want to know what you want to know but I will tell you briefly what our national committee has been doing.

We were established in February 2012, comprised of different organizations of the central government, civil society and higher learning institutions. We have short and long work plans that we have carried out. We have had peace forums; we had capacity building and sensitization programs. Right now we are carrying out a “public peace campaign” because what we know is that each and every one in the society has a role to play in peace building. In this campaign, the committee engages political leaders, religious leaders, youth, and women, so we are launching the project so that we are working with religious leaders in the countries in the early phases. We are also working closely with students and civil society.

We have no secretariats; we just work from our offices. We have no permanent staff. Some people have been telling me, for instance, that to be successful you must have staff. So there are issues I want to discuss with you on what we have learned so far, what I wish I would have known before establishing the national committee. There are things that you want to know before establishing your mechanism or things that you want to know as you are progressing.

First, I am going to tell you about the legal and policy framework.

Because of the fact that we don’t have a national legal framework domesticating the ICGLR Protocol on the prevention of genocide, what we did is we used the ICGLR Pact and the Protocol as an initial framework.

So what would be our legal basis? You see, the ICGLR Pact was endorsed by the heads of states; the Protocol as well was endorsed by the heads of state. With that there is no question, because you show them the Pact that all the heads of state have signed and ratified. There has been no issue with that.

But that does not mean we don’t need legislation for it. It is very important to have a mission statement about the national committee because it makes the government own the process. It gives you the legitimacy you need in the government as a committee. This is important because as the administration changes and the new one comes, everything could change. So it’s very important to have a legal framework.

When we started as the regional committee, there was this issue of the legal framework. Some members say we use the common law, and others say civil law; still, others say the protocol is enough. So this debate has been going on for a long time. For example, one regional committee member said, “yes, we need the national committee but we have to have a decree, it’s called the presidential decree, before we establish the national mechanism.”

This is an issue that should be addressed by the national committee. We need a legal framework or proclamation or presidential declaration to say what it is that you think in your own jurisdiction will help you operate legally. Some may call it a protocol while to others it may be Terms of Reference from the government. It’s actually the responsibility of the national committee to look at their own government structure and decide which kind of legal framework you need. Do you need a policy? Because in some countries you cannot have a law without a policy first. But you know that it takes a long time to have the policy in place and to get the legislation. So you must see which is the shortest way, which is the most effective way of legalizing this national committee. But the starting point of this discussion should be the Pact and the Protocol of the ICGLR.

I think that you can look for some clues in the government, such as the strategic plans of the heads of state when they were passing this Pact or statements that had to do with the ICGLR secretariat, whether or not there was a declaration covered by the Pact. So what the government says, whether it’s the head of state, the minister of foreign affairs, or a statesman, you can see what they said, and what commitments they made when they were addressing the issue of peace and security in the Great Lakes. This makes a lot of difference because when we were launching our committee in 2012, we looked at what the government said back in 2006. We took the statements that were made by the government then as a draft. We then took it as a basis for our commitment to establishing a national committee. So we want to have similar precedents in your country, identified by the heads of state or senior officials, which are aligned with what we want to do, and we start from there.

After establishing ourselves, we came up with our own terms of reference that we presented to the Minister of Justice. We went through the terms of reference and endorsed them so this is our, you know, small yet the legal framework. It tells you such things as what you are supposed to do, the tenure of leadership and membership, where you are coming from, and where you are working from, among others. Members have to know how long they serve and whether they are going to be remunerated or given an allowance. Those are real issues that we need to address in the terms of reference. 

And the issue of composition of the committee:

Who is in the committee? What is he or she bringing in and how do you go about getting the members? When we met as a regional committee in 2011, we had a sample structure of who should be in the committee. So in Tanzania, we have the President’s office, we have the Prime Minister’s office, we have representatives from the ministry of foreign affairs, justice, home affairs, defense, as well as the ministry of East African corporation, because we know there are other initiatives going on with the East African people. We have the ministry of community development gender, children. We have the ministry of education, ministry of youth, and sports. Then, we have civil society. We also have a member from the university. And we have a member from the Inter-Religious Council for Peace in Tanzania.

How do you select the members?

We initially used the national coordination mechanism, which is in the ministry of foreign affairs and which was the one initially liaising between us and the regional committee members of the ICGLR. Through this mechanism, we asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs to ask the key ministries to appoint a member to the national committee. We emphasized that the person would have to have passion about the prevention and management of conflict. So that’s how we got the names of the people in our committee.


When we were talking about the leadership, we considered a number of issues. Based on how the regional committee was set up, the regional committee delegate should automatically be the chair of the national committee, so that she or he provides the link to the national committee and regional committee. And we’ve had some real progress.

The first thing I would advise is that when you are choosing who is to lead your committee you have to address the issues of acceptability, feasibility and visibility. Does that person have access to the authority? Is he or she visible enough? Because when you send a person to the minister or to the president’s office saying that the national committee wants to see him, they’ll ask what’s the name of the chair and who is that person? If that person is not capable of linking you to the high authorities, it will be difficult for you to make any decisions. These are some issues that I have come across very often when one is looking for a leader of the committee. And that person should be of a high convening power; it should be a person who will be able to pull other people in and say we are having this meeting in our country even if these issues have never been handled [such as the prevention of mass atrocities] and that we are putting those issues on the agenda.

About the location of the national committee:

Where are you going to locate your committee? When you are deciding whether to put it in the ministry of foreign affairs or the ministry of justice or else, what do they have that is going to make your committee work? Is it office space? Is it the human resources? Is it the technical expertise? Is it the financial aspect that they can bring on board? What is the office or the ministry is going to bring to you as a committee? So when you are asking where to put your committee, look at the value additions of that ministry and its convening power, capacities to implement and to disseminate your mandate.

The internal tools that are available in that ministry, the leadership of the ministry, are also important. Are they in full support of the work of the committee? Is there a place that they will put you with the administrative set-up? Do they have a department or unit that you can be part of? Or are they going to establish a completely new department or unit to host you? Those are important questions, so you don’t put yourself in a new place where you don’t fit anywhere. It will be very difficult for them to budget for you. But if you put yourself in a ministry that has something to do with justice, or conflict, or peace or topics related to your mandate, it is easier for them to budget for you because it is in line with their daily activities.

So that brings us to the issue of resources:

The committee needs resources to function. When we started our national committee, we asked the Ministry for Constitutional Affairs to help us open a bank account. We said we wanted to be visible as a committee for funders outside to see. We convinced a senior policymaker who said, “Ok,I am going to work with the Bank of Tanzania, the central bank, and the treasury for you to have your own account.” So he wrote to the treasury saying that we have a national committee being established under the Protocol for the prevention of genocide.  This is how we were given permission to open the bank account.

And why should we have an account?

If you don’t have an account at all, it means you are dependent on the ministry under which you are operating to give you funds or whoever is going to help you will have to give the funds through the ministry. You see, it has its own challenges. And when the government agrees to give you a bank account, it means they recognize your presence and your legitimacy. That’s the way of creating, establishing your legitimacy within the government.

So where do we get our money? In our case, there is something called the Mid-term expenditure financial framework, or MTEF. There are those objectives that are along the line of the work of the committee. So that is where we put the item of the work of the national committee. That way, I managed to put in some activities of the committee that were budgeted for, and they received the funds from the government. Whether they receive the funds monthly or quarterly, you will have to have some portion into the committee.

The reporting mechanism is also crucial:

This is what boosts our progress. When we go for peace forum, for example, we come up with recommendations. So if we take the recommendations to the Ministry of Justice, we  write to each ministry from which we have a member. We also make sure we directly send the recommendations to the office of the president because we have a member coming from there. Also, we interact daily with the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice. They know what we are doing, when are our programs and so forth. So once we finish our activities, we report to him and he report to the Minister. This way, our reports actually find their way to the parliament, because at the end of the day, before the budget sessions, the Minister has to explain what Ministry  has been doing for the past year. So the activities of the Committee find their way to the parliament through the Minister when they are giving their budget speech. The parliamentarians will know the work of the Committee through this budget speech. 

What gives me the drive to push on:

As for me, I worked for the magistrate; I saw a lot of injustice. And then I worked as attorney at the ICTR in Arusha. I dealt with the organizers of the genocide. Our case was the Ndindilyimana and Bizimana case where we had the high level military personnel being prosecuted. So I felt, I actually felt the genocide through the witnesses, the testimony that were coming from prosecution witnesses. You just feel it. When you are appointed as an attorney, you have to look at the crimes, you look at the videos. The first few days you want to go back because it’s a shock. It’s something you’ve never seen, you’ve never experienced so I asked myself "what I am getting myself into?" It takes a while for you to adjust and know that I am just here as an attorney. But you don’t forget, because day after day you are reminded. You have witnesses who are telling you what happened to them in church, what happened to them in school, what happened to them. You know, it’s so traumatizing for us attorneys, I’m telling you. I know that in our team, some were  saying "I don’t want to work in court anymore."

And there were magistrates who say, "No I don’t want to work as a magistrate." It’s because of what you heard. You heard from the testimonies because you have to interview witnesses. They tell you exactly what happened to them. So you feel like “I have to do something to stop this." So I had that passion. I didn’t know I would be working on the prevention of genocide but I knew I had a job to do at the ICTR and I finished my term and I said "I’m not going back to court, I’m going to work for the government but in another area." So when I went to the ministry and the ICGLR said they want a focal point for the prevention of genocide, the minister said "Oh this is the right person because she has been working for the ICTR." So I find myself going back to the genocide issue. Now I said, "I have to do something. I have seen it, I’ve heard it, and took part in it in the prosecution, I have to do something to make sure that it doesn’t happen." My contribution will be small, but at least I will have done something--for those who don’t know anything you can forgive them. But those of you who know, you have seen, you have gone to the memorial sites, you have heard those awful things and you don’t do anything--that’s like you have an obligation, you have a moral obligation to do something to make sure that it doesn’t happen anywhere. You can be safe, safe everyday but it still happens, just start somewhere and let the others find you there. That’s what drives me.