The African Military Law Forum (AMLF) Board that was elected in August, 2022, held its first in - person meeting after holding several virtual meetings. They met in conjunction with the Women's African Military Professional Legal Network (WAMPLN) committee from August 15-17, 2023, in Lusaka, Zambia. Hosted by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), Office of Legal Counsel, and co-hosted by the Zambia Army, eighteen African military legal officers and magistrates representing ten countries, gathered to discuss regional military legal issues in Africa. They also focused on the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) framework, and its relevance to the military.
AMLF is a long-standing AFRICOM-sponsored meeting for African military legal advisors and magistrates to discuss best practices with their U.S. counterparts, in promoting military operational adherence to the rule of law. Attendees organized themselves under a charter to elect leadership to the AMLF Board. The Board members meet quarterly to update one another on current regional legal issues, and to plan the larger AMLF plenary meeting topics. The last AMLF plenary meeting, which took place in Gaborone, Botswana, in August 2022, elected six women to a board of nine members. These election were on the heels of the inaugural WAMPLN. The unanimous decision of the Board to integrate WAMPLN into AMLF demonstrates the Board’s commitment to maintain a focus on gender issues.
Commander Amy Sung, Chief of Legal Engagements, opened the session, followed by Retired Major Abel Motaung, the AMLF Board President and Botswana Defence Force Judge Advocate General. Motaung praised AFRICOM’s “dedication to lawyers meeting under one roof, serving in front of compliance with the law.”
Throughout the next three days, attendees focused on investigations, the prosecution of sexual assault and harassment crimes, and recruitment and retention of women in the military. During the lively discussion of the participants, pre-deployment training was a key preventative measure against sexual crimes and the need to examine and potentially amend applicable policies and laws on sexual assault prosecution.
Several sessions were held regarding the WPS framework, first articulated in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. Presentations discussed the status of National Action Plans, using the United States and Zambia as roadmaps. Roundtable discussions centered on the relevancy of those frameworks for military legal advisors and magistrates. Several participants were gender advisors for their militaries and helped lead the discussion on the process of reviewing gender integration policies for their respective militaries. As one legal advisor commented, “I was cynical, but I believe in its importance now.”
Colonel Mwizukanji Namwawa, Deputy Director General of Legal Services, Zambia Army, and a graduate of the U.S. Army The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, presented on her military’s experiences with gender integration. Namwawa noted progress has been made in Zambia, but significant challenges remain. She then discussed how essential female integration was to the Zambia Army and used relevant examples from Zambia’s contribution to peacekeeping operations. Namwawa detailed how a sexual assault investigation involving civilian victims were hampered without the use of female investigators and legal advisors. “One has to understand the culture of the environment that we were operating in, and that it was absolutely not permissible for women to speak with strange men,” regardless of their status as peacekeepers. She highlighted that women in operations are assets in helping local communities and ensuring victims of sexual crimes are able to participate in the investigative process.
The keynote address was provided by Colonel Chimpusa, the senior Zambia Army officer at the event and the Director of Civil-Military Activities. Chimpusa began her presentation with a video of a U.S. Marine Corp female engagement team and followed that with a video on a Zambian military female engagement team. She explained that the U.S. Marine Corps inspired the Zambian model for female engagement teams. In her remarks, she highlighted that participation by women in its militaries advance security and peace:
"Today, I stand before you to shed more light on a critical aspect that has long been overlooked in global peace efforts - women, peace, and security. In our pursuit of a peaceful world, it is imperative to recognize the invaluable role that women play in society and leverage their potential as agents of change. Throughout history, women have remained at the forefront of peace movements, advocating for justice, equality, and fundamental human rights. From the suffragette movement to the fight against discrimination, women have consistently shown their dedication to creating a better world for all. . . . However, it is disheartening to witness that women continue to be disproportionately affected by conflicts and violence worldwide. They are often subject to gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, and forced displacement, making it evident that their security is severely compromised during times of turmoil. Yet, it is not enough to acknowledge the suffering of women during conflicts; we must also recognize their potential to contribute to peace building efforts. "
Chimpusa detailed the significant contributions of Zambia’s WPS efforts to mediation and conflict resolution, to conflict prevention, to peace operations, and finally, to refugee support.
During the event, participants provided interviews and feedback to develop future AMLF Sends newsletters and AMLF Streams videos. These products will be distributed through our embassies to our African partners. In this way, participants were doing their part to share best business practices in advising their militaries on the law, as well as to network and support one another.
At the closing ceremony, Motaung thanked AFRICOM and the Zambia Army for its support of the event and praised the participation of the African legal advisors and gender advisors in attendance. He and Commandant Magistrate Annick Miriam Batchagna Makendje from Cameroon, the AMLF Vice President, presented each participant with a certificate of participation.
In the end, the strength of and the need for the AMLF and WAMPLAN is best summed up by Chimpusa’s remarks: “Research has shown that when women actively participate in peace processes, the resulting agreements are more comprehensive, inclusive, and sustainable. Women bring unique perspectives, prioritize community needs, and advocate for the greater good, considering not only the immediate aftermath of a conflict but also the long-term development of peaceful societies.” In the end, a society grounded in the rule of law is a society that promotes security and peace.