After serving in various judicial capacities in the country for 21 years, High Court of Malawi Judge Rachel Sikwese was on Wednesday appointed half-time judge to United Nations Dispute Tribunal (UNDT).
The UN General Assembly elected Sikwese by secret ballot alongside three other judges from Uganda, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago at its plenary 73rd Session at UN headquarters in New York. She will serve the body for seven years, beginning this month.
Registrar of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal Agnes Patemba confirmed Sikwese’s appointment, saying the judiciary was excited and proud that Malawian judges were competent and continue contributing to the international jurisprudence.
“We will give the judge all the support she needs, knowing that it’s not just for her benefit but Malawi as a nation. Knowing her capacity, we do not doubt that she will continue to excel and shine at international community,” said Patemba.
Speaking, in an interview, from Abidjan, Cote d’ Ivoire on Friday, a thrilled Sikwese said the appointment had come after she, along with government and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), invested a lot in labour dispute resolution in the country.
About 325 people from across the world (197 from Africa) applied for the position, out of which 96 were invited to written interviews, 22 to oral interviews in The Hague, Netherlands and only seven were recommended.
During the election and appointment, out of 170 ballots, the General Assembly gave Sikwese 109 votes, coming second after Margaret Tibulya from Uganda, who got 110 votes.
According to research, at 49, Sikwese becomes the youngest judge to serve in the UN Dispute Tribunal. She will be working as a circuit judge to hear and determine labour disputes between the approximately 44 000 United Nations employees worldwide and the United Nations.
“I will be seating six months every year, for seven years, in New York, for cases in America, Geneva (Switzerland), for cases involving UN staff in Europe and part of Asia and then Nairobi to seat on cases involving UN staff in Africa and part of Asia. However, I will continue working as a judge in Malawi,” explained Sikwese.
This is not the first time Sikwese will be in the United Nations system, having previously served as Temporary Adviser to the World Health Organisation (Social Determinants of Health).
Reacting to the development, Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Burton Mhango congratulated Sikwese, saying her appointment reflected confidence and respect in the country’s judiciary by the international community.
Said Mhango: “It is a very positive development and we would like to wish our learned Justice well as she takes up this task.”
Sikwese has served the judiciary in various capacities for 21 years, starting from the magistracy, registrar, chairperson of Industrial Relations Court (IRC) and currently Judge of the High Court, specialising in commercial law.
She has also been an editor of Malawi Law Reports since 2002 and sits on the Special Law Commission on the Review of the Supreme Court of Appeal Act as deputy chairperson.
The judge is also an author and her publication, Labour Law in Malawi, and her monograph in the International Encyclopaedia for Labour Law and Industrial Relations (Kluwer Law International BV, The Netherlands) are leading authorities on labour law in Malawi. n