Daniel D. Ntanda Nsereko

Dialogue with an Adventist judge at the International Criminal Court at The Hague

Dr. Daniel Nsereko hails from Uganda. He was born into a family of nine. His father was a lay preacher in the Anglican Church until he became an Adventist in 1950. Nsereko was baptized into the Adventist faith in 1960, when he was in secondary school. After completing his primary and secondary education at Anglican mission schools in Uganda, he joined the University of Dar es Salam, which was part of the then University of East Africa. There he obtained a Bachelor of Laws degree (LL.B.), and moved on to Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., to obtain a master’s degree in comparative jurisprudence (M.C.J.) . He also obtained a Master of Law (LL.M.) degree at New York University School of Law in New York City. The final step in his educational career led to the degree of Doctor of Juridical Science (J.S.D.) at the same university. For his doctoral degree, he wrote a dissertation titled “The International Protection of Refugees.”

Nsereko began his professional career as an advocate in Uganda in 1972. Among his many clients was the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was going through many crises, including an official ban by then President Idi Amin in 1977. Later, Nsereko also served as lecturer and then senior lecturer at Uganda’s Makerere University Faculty of Law. From there he moved to the University of Botswana, where he served as senior lecturer, associate professor, and then full professor. He also served as head of the University of Botswana law department for eight years. In 2007, Nsereko received the honor of being elected a judge of the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands.

Nsereko is married and has five children.

How did you get appointed to the position you hold today?

I was elected judge of the International Criminal Court in December, 2007, by the Assembly of States Parties, which is the Court’s legislative or oversight body established by the countries that have ratified or acceded to the Rome Treaty, under which the Court was established. The Court is a permanent international institution – the first of its kind – with its seat at The Hague, the Netherlands.

The International Criminal Court tries individuals – usually political, military and militia, and leaders – who are suspected of committing the most serious crimes of international concern, such as aggression, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. It may impose punishment – usually imprisonment – on an individual it finds guilty.

What are your responsibilities?

The Court is organized into three divisions: the Pre-Trial Division, the Trial Division, and the Appeals Division. I serve on the Appeals Division as an appeals judge. Appeals judges hear and determine appeals from decisions of chambers of both the Pre-Trial and Trial Divisions. They may confirm, reverse, or amend the appealed decisions.

Did your early education prepare you in any way for this kind of service?

Yes, it did. My home education included daily Bible study and prayer “without ceasing.” My parents impressed on me the importance of staying connected to the Source of wisdom. I need that wisdom to guide and sustain me in my solemn and challenging work. My high school and university education helped create in me an independent, analytical, and inquiring mind. In particular, my study of history, literature, and religion imbued me with a passion for justice and fairness and a desire to fight injustice through law. My education also equipped me with the communication skills that are so essential to the work of a lawyer and judge.

How do you manage your responsibilities?

Managing one’s tasks at any level requires basically the same qualities. In my entire life – beginning as a student, growing as a professional, and now serving at an international level – I’ve always found that prayer is a great source of strength. Keeping connected with God helps us to do well in family, community, and professional life. In addition, we need to do our job conscientiously, collegially, and with utmost integrity and fairness.

Some people misunderstand law or being a lawyer or a judge. What is your comment on this?

With respect to law, we all should recognize that wherever individuals live together in a community, there must be law. Law helps regulate our relations with each other, confer mutual rights and impose mutual obligations, and generally proscribes conduct that we should not engage in, all in the interest of the community as a whole. Without law, there would be chaos or anarchy. Life in such a lawless community would be intolerable.

The Apostle Paul pointed out the necessity of civil laws when he wrote in Romans 13 that God has established governments for the benefit of those who “do right.” Thankfully, God, who created people, communities of people and of nations, is a loving God. He is the God of order and not of anarchy. Thus law, as a regulator of human conduct and as an antidote to anarchy, is essential, indeed indispensable to life in a community. True, temporal law is not perfect, just as the people who make or enforce it are not perfect, but it is necessary.

We cannot talk about law without lawyers. The two go hand in glove. But who are lawyers? Lawyers are individuals who specialize in the study of the science of law, its place in society, and its enactment, interpretation, and application to real-life situations. Lawyers work in many and varied capacities. They may be involved in drafting and enacting laws. They may work as advisors to government agencies, non-governmental bodies, business corporations, and private individuals as to the requirements of the law and the legal consequences of planned or past actions. They also may assist clients to assert or to enforce their rights against others, or to respond to or defend claims or suits against them. They may appear and speak on behalf of clients before courts, tribunals, administrative agencies, and other adjudicatory or administrative bodies or authorities.

The role of lawyers in the community in today’s increasingly-complex and highly-regulated society, where knowledge of the law is indispensable, cannot be overstated. Lawyers are just as essential to the well-being of the community as doctors are to the preservation of health, advising on the prevention and cure of disease. You need a lawyer – if possible a God-fearing lawyer – in the same way you need a doctor. In particularly complex matters, it would be unsafe for you to act as your own lawyer, in the same way that it would be unsafe for you to be your own doctor.

It is not true, as one often hears, that all that lawyers do is to defend “criminals.” Yet I must hasten to add that under most legal systems of the world, anyone accused of a crime has a right to be assisted by a lawyer to prepare and present his or her defense before the courts of law.

It must not be assumed that everyone accused is actually guilty of committing a crime. For example, Jesus was accused before Pilate, and Paul before Felix, but they were innocent.

It is also not true that it is part of the practice of the law to tell lies, just as it is not part of the practice of accountancy to falsify accounts. It could not be, because law is about truth, justice, and fairness. Legal ethics forbid lawyers to tell lies or to mislead the court or to use their privileged position to perpetrate fraud or crime. That is why it is so important that individuals who study and practice law should be God-fearing.

Really, the question should not be whether there should be judges, but rather, what kind of judges. Moses commanded the judges of Israel: “Hear the disputes between your brethren and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God” (Deuteronomy 1:16-17, NIV). Our communities – local, national, and international – need men and women of integrity to serve as judges.

What advice would you give to young Adventists wishing to take up law?

I would encourage young Adventists to study law. Law will equip them to serve their fellow human beings and their communities, countries, and church. There are innumerable facets of law they can specialize in, including constitutional law, administrative law, human-rights law, international law, criminal law, family law, inheritance law, employment law, corporate and business law, real-property law, tax law, patent, copyright and trademark law, and legislative drafting.

Young Adventists should also aspire to serve as judges, which I consider the ultimate practice of law. By God’s grace, there are Adventists around the world already serving as judges. More need to join their ranks.

Your love for the church is passionate, and you actively participate in several of its activities. How do you manage to do this, and how is your faith affected by your current position?

From the time I was baptized, church has always been an essential part of my life. My current position is reason for me to strengthen my bond with the community of fellow believers as we jouney to the Promised Land. My judicial position has strengthened, not adversely affected, my faith. I have realized more and more that with total dependence on God, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NRSV). I am assured that God, who placed me in this position, is constantly with me to guide, sustain, and give me wisdom to discharge the challenges that the position entails. Like Paul, I can assert that in God I live and move and have my being (Acts 17:28). Without God, I am nothing and can do nothing good.

With the heavy responsibilities you bear, do you find enough time for your family?

I try to. Besides God, my family is my base and anchor. I am grateful to my wife and to my children and to my extended family for their encouragement and support over the years.

What is your advice to young professionals in general and your last comment?

My advice to young professionals in every field of endeavor is that they should aim high and work hard to attain their goals. God has promised those who fear Him that they will be the head and not the tail. Also, young professionals should take their religion with them to their work. I do not mean that they should be partisan or parochial – not at all. I mean they should let their moral principles, informed by their religion, guide them in their day-to-day work and in their private and professional lives. I cannot put it better that Ellen G. White, who wrote: “Take your religion into your school-life, into your boarding-house, into all your pursuits” (Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 82).

Hudson E. Kibuuka (D.Ed., University of South Africa) is an associate director of education, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.