Visiting scholar from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa shares his reflections after visiting UWE Bristol

Posted on

In December 2018, visiting scholar  Dr Windell Nortje from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa spent two weeks at the Bristol Law School. Below he shares his reflections of the visit: 

Guest blog by Dr Windell Nortje

I visited UWE between 4 and 18 December 2018. My home institution, the University of the Western Cape (UWC), in Cape Town, South Africa, granted me funding for a two-week international visit at a university abroad. I am truly grateful for the UWC Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Research and Innovation Office for giving me the opportunity to visit UWE.

In October 2017 I started collaborating with Dr Noëlle Quénivet with a view to writing a journal article. This project turned into a book (Child Soldiers and the Defence of Duress in International Criminal Law) that has been accepted for publication by Palgrave. The manuscript is due to be submitted in March 2019. I approached Dr Quénivet in October 2018 and enquired whether UWE would be willing to host me as a visiting scholar. UWE graciously agreed. In my time at UWE I felt part of the Bristol Law School. I was warmly welcomed by Dr Quénivet, Dr Sarah Grabham, the Head of the Department of Law as well as all the academics and students.

This made my experience at UWE very fulfilling and rewarding.

The initial aim of the two-week visit was to work on the book and to collaborate with some of the academics at UWE. As it turned out, I held two guest lectures and presented my research to UWE academics. In addition, I collaborated with a number of academics with the view to writing journal articles, attended the first annual Criminal Justice Research Unit (CJRU) Lecture and importantly, also discussed the possibility of establishing a new LLM Programme between UWC and UWE. Finally, I also drafted a funding application with Dr Noëlle Quénivet for a potential writing workshop to be held in Cape Town in July 2019. I will be sharing some of the highlights of the activities above.

We are in the final stages of writing the book. Most of the chapters are completed. We are still finalising the conclusions and recommendations. Dr Quénivet had a few new books on child soldiers which I had not yet read and so I was able to incorporate some of the views of these authors in our book. Dr Quénivet and I also discussed the footnoting and referencing of the book as well as a follow-up article to be published in 2020. Dr Quénivet, being a leading expert in the field of international law, has been influential in turning the article into a book. I am grateful for her continuous support and guidance throughout the project. I would also like to thank Ms Shilan Shah-Davis and Dr Suwita Hani Randhawa for their invaluable comments when I discussed the book with them.

In a first for me, Dr Quénivet and I had the opportunity to present a public lunchtime lecture at the Bristol Central Library. This was a unique experience as we presented the lecture in the reception area of the Library and anyone was welcome to attend. The lecture entitled: “Child soldiers: Busting The Myth of their Victimhood to Better Understand who they are”, centred around the myth that child soldiers are victims only and that they should not be held accountable for their crimes. The audience found it fascinating to note that so many girls are also child soldiers since the perception is that the iconic child soldier is that of a boy. However, in some conflicts, the girls outnumber the boys. The audience, who consisted of about 20 people, had an opportunity to ask questions. I was grateful for this opportunity to discuss our work with the public as this is not an opportunity that comes by too often.

At UWE, I was invited by Mrs Evadne Grant to present a guest lecture on the International Law and Institutions module offered on the LLM progamme. The lecture, entitled: “The Fragmentation of International Law: An African Perspective” focused on the fragmentation of international law and how this has resulted in a conflict between African States and the International Criminal Court (ICC). There is no homogenous system of international law as different regulations are applied in different situations, thus a fragmented system. To explain this to the students I used the example of the concept head of state immunity within the context of Africa. The incumbent President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, is wanted by the ICC for the commission of war crimes and genocide. He attended the African Union Summit in South Africa in 2015. During the Summit a South African Court issued an arrest warrant for his arrest. However, he was able to return safely to Sudan and is still wanted by the ICC. As a result, the ICC ruled that South Africa had a duty under the ICC Statute to arrest Al-Bashir. This was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeal in South Africa. In the case of head of state immunity, there are various regulations that could be applied in this case hence alluding to the fragmentation of international law. After presenting the lecture, the students had an opportunity to discuss several question posed to them by Mrs Grant. This included whether fragmentation should be regarded as a positive or negative aspect of international law. The students provided constructive feedback on the questions. In South Africa we are not used to this style of interactive lectures, even at LLM level. This was a refreshing experience for me and something that I will be considering at my institution as well.

I was also given the opportunity to present my research at the final Criminal Justice Research Unit/International Law and Human Rights Unit end of semester talk. My research article entitled “The Protection of the Identities of Minors upon Reaching the Age of Majority: Centre for Child Law and Others v Media 24 Limited and Others (871/2017) [2018] ZASCA 140 (28 September 2018)” dealt with the Supreme Court of Appeal’s judgment concerning the ongoing protection of the identities of minors involved in criminal proceedings. The identity of child witnesses, victims and perpetrators when they reach the age of 18 is not protected and it is argued that this could have a damaging effect on the development of the child, depending on whether the case receives wide publicity or not. I received valuable feedback from Dr Tom Smith and Mr Ed Johnston.

I was invited by Dr Smith and Mr Johnston to attend the first annual CJRU lecture which dealt with the disclosure of evidence by the police in the Liam Allan case. It was a fascinating experience for me as this was the first time for myself, and many others, where we could hear the experiences of a former accused, his defence lawyer and the state prosecutor all in one lecture. It was clear from the speakers that the current situation in the UK needs proper reform, and hopefully initiatives such as those of the CJRU will encourage policy change. This event also inspired me to ask questions about the South African law regarding the disclosure of evidence and what lessons could be learned from the UK criminal justice system.

Regarding collaboration, Mrs Grant and I talked about the idea of creating a joint LLM between UWC and UWE in the future. We exchanged ideas and will be looking at funding opportunities to launch a new LLM between our institutions.

Lastly, Dr Quénivet and I embarked on a funding proposal to be submitted to the British Academy which would enable us to hold a writing workshop in Cape Town in July 2019. This workshop will potentially bring together leading international journal editors, UK based scholars and young and emerging African PhD students/scholars and give the emerging PhD students/scholars the opportunity to present an article to the specialist panel and receive constructive feedback on how to publish in international journals. The workshop aims not only to remedy the lack of quality publications by African scholars but also to support them more generally in their career.

In sum, my visit at UWE was an unforgettable experience which has left a lasting impact on my own emerging research profile and my development as a scholar in the field of international criminal law. I hope to see you again in the future!