Leila Zerrougui Head of United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo MONUSCO (DRC)
As the eyes of the world and especially of the United States of America focus the casket bearing Ruther Bader Ginsburg, the second female Judge of the Supreme Court of United States and the First Lady to be laid is State at the United States Supreme Court, I thought of Africa and the female legal icons we have on our continent. Then it was then I realized the profile of the week could only be that of Leila Zerrougui. She is a renowned legal expert from Algeria globally recognised for her works and activities on human rights and the administration of justice. She has served as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) since January 2018.
She was Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict from September 2012 to May 2017. In this capacity, she served as an independent advocate to build awareness and give prominence to the rights and protection of boys and girls affected by armed conflict.
Zerrougui was born in Souk Ahras. Souk Ahras is a municipality in Algeria. It is the capital the Souk Ahras province. The Numidian city of Thagaste, on whose ruins Souk Ahras. was built. It was a city of great culture once described as the very hub of civilisation.
She graduated from L’Ecole Nationale d’Administration (Algiers) in 1980. Since 1993, she has held various academic positions at law schools in Algeria and was associate professor of L’Ecole Supérieure de la Magistrature (Algiers). She has published extensively on the administration of justice and human rights. She was a member of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention under the United Nations Human Rights Council from 2001, and served as the Working Group’s Chairperson-Rapporteur from 2003 until May 2008. Prior to this, she had a long career in the Algerian judiciary and, in 2000, was appointed to the Algerian Supreme Court.
She served as a juvenile judge and judge of first instance from 1980 to 1986, and as an appeals court judge from 1986 to 1997. From 1998 to 2000, she served as legal adviser to the Cabinet of the Ministry of Justice and, from 2000 to 2008, as legal adviser to the cabinet of the President of Algeria. She also worked in various positions within the Algerian government and was a member of the Algerian National Commission on the Reform of the Judiciary. Today she is the Head of MONUSCO the largest UN operation in the world. MONUSCO has been present in the DRC since 1999. With some 18,000 military and police, more than 4,000 civilians, a budget of $ 1.14 billion per year (about 960 million euros), it is the most important and expensive UN mission.
At the United Nations, in 2015 she launched the Children, Not Soldiers campaign. Campaign that resulted in the signing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo of a roadmap to end the recruitment of children in armed conflict.
Leila Zerrougui explained in an interview that she was part of a first generation of women who had access to education in her country and that the opportunity to study law helped her to understand rights, how to exercise these and how to protect them. She has always maintained that
When she started as a juvenile judge, the family code was very unjust for women, and she was motivated to try and fix these injustices.
As a woman she considers that the path to success was education and says her father has a very large role in this. She had this to say “Education has been a way for me to gain my freedom. And I have to admit it: my dad has helped me a lot to achieve my dreams. “
Prof. Zerrougui explained that children are often victims of conflicts they have not instigated but, despite sometimes constituting as much as 50 or 70 per cent of the overall population in conflict zones, are frequently forgotten and left without a voice.
In her role as UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, she was involved with the Colombia peace process and the first agreement signed there was about releasing children and reintegrating them into their family or society rather than seeking punishment. However, she explained it is also vital to ensure that perpetrators of abuses against children are punished.
Leila Zerrougui encouraged more young women to think about working in human rights and said: “just choose the space when you have the opportunity to get it, don’t think about all the obstacles, it’s good to know them but not stop at that, and you will achieve results, the recognition will come.”
She added that this work is important, “because without human rights defenders, without people that dedicate their lives, their careers, to defend the most vulnerable, the voiceless, then the world becomes a jungle.”
Leila Zerrougui is very conscious of the role she has to play in the DRC as it goes through it’s very first transition of power from a governing party to and opposition party. It is a delicate situation which is further compounded by continuing conflicts in the east of the DRC. She has the right mindset for this when she declares. “ There is always a social dimension, a political dimension, a dimension that allows us to turn the page. If we don’t turn the page, instability will prevail”. An honorary member of the International Court Of Justice ( ICJ) , a legal icon a true feminist and a crusader for the rights of the children and the disabled, Leila Zerrougui, is my African of the week