OBERAMMERGAU, Germany – U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) Office of Legal Counsel hosted the Africa Military Law Forum (AMLF) at the NATO School Oberammergau (NSO), Feb. 27 – March 1.
The AMLF is an annual event which gathers African military legal professionals together to discuss best practices when advising militaries.
At this fourth iteration of the AMLF, 27 African officers from 21 African nations met with their U.S. and Allied counterparts to discuss pressing issues which could improve military operational adherence to the law. The representatives from the Office of Legal Counsel of the African Union attended as well as representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is working with the African Union in Ethiopia.
Col. (ret.) Mark Maxwell, USAFRICOM Deputy Legal Counsel, described this AMLF and its participants as follows: “We have a full range of people here at the AMLF. We have lieutenants, who are very young in their career. We have brigadier generals. I think we have the whole gamut of what issues they face and most importantly, that not any one nation has all the answers. It is a collaboration that we hope will bring out best practices and also an opportunity for us to be able to create relationships.”
AMLF leadership was designed by AMLF participants. It is comprised of three co-chairpersons who are elected by forum participants to represent one English and one French speaking African country, and to always include female representation in this still mostly male enclave.
This year’s chairs are Maj. Desire Hakorimana, Provost Marshall from the Burundi Armed Forces, who has extensive experience in peace operations, Lt. Col. Marguerite Meffand, President of the Cameroon Military Tribunals, and Brig. Gen. Daniel Kuwali from the Office of Legal Advisor of the Malawian Defense Forces and a well published author. The event’s primary focus this year was the role of the legal advisor in supporting a wide variety of investigations, whether counter terrorism or allegations of crimes by members of the military.
As the forum is a relatively recent development, the participants are engaged in constructive and effective discussions and interesting conversations regarding the forum’s future autonomy, status and independence with USAFRICOM. Organizational topics such as quorum, elections for members, basic rules and a flag design are being discussed.
The wide-ranging topics of the lectures illustrate the diversity of the areas in which legal advisers must have knowledge and in which they must be able to act.
The opening roundtable discussion centered on current military challenges that all participating countries face. “AMLF gives us a chance, for example today at our round table, to talk about the different legal system and military justice system,” said Brig. Gen. Paul Dikita Ilunga, Chief of the Legal Service of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “We also talked specifically about challenges to each of our respective countries at the level of the armed forces and the military justice systems in those different countries.
The lecture of Professor Adolphe Sururu from the University of Burundi about communication methods with accused people in a criminal investigation provoked vivid discussions and various reactions. Professor Sururu talked about the psychology of nonviolent speaking in an interrogation to establish a relationship with the accused to encourage the accused to talk with lawyers and speak more openly about what happened. “It provoked a really interesting reaction by the lawyers… very interesting to see,” said Ms. Sandra Franzblau with the USAFRICOM Office of Legal Counsel.
The role of the legal advisor when investigating crimes during peacekeeping operations was presented by Maj. Hakorimana at the beginning of the second day. This was followed by a panel discussion, led by Brig. Gen. Kuwali about the role of the legal advisor in supporting investigations related to crimes against humanity committed by extremist groups and other actors.
The role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regarding investigating violations of Humanitarian Law was presented to the audience by Donatien Nkurunziza, Delegate to Armed and Security Forces, ICRC, and Emmanuel Colineau, Legal Adviser to the Operations (Africa), ICRC.
Col. Dr. Godard Busingye, Deputy Chief of Legal Service Uganda Peoples' Defence Forces, gave a presentation about the role of the legal advisor in supporting the National Investigating Officer (NIO).
This was followed by a lecture addressing the topic of investigations related to wildlife crimes and other natural resource violations by Col. Nyaladzi Kelipi, Director Legal Services, Botswana Defense Force.
On the last day of the event, Col. (ret) Benjamin F. Klappe from the Netherlands gave a presentation on The International Society for Military Law and the Law of War. This was followed with an overview of the European Union, and Security and Defense Engagement in Africa presented by Col.l Christian de Cock, Head of Legal Affairs, European Union.
53 different nations
The round table discussion on future military trends and challenges was carried out as an individual country perspective on what the future might hold. Maxwell said about the countries: “When talking about Africa, everyone has to recognize that [we work with] 53 different nations. A lot of people think sort of monolithic about Africa because they do not know of its rich diversity. For example, there are over a thousand languages spoken on the continent. We are trying to ensure that people have rule of law and democratic governance that will allow their countries to blossom and mature. Many states are already there. Other states are still developing. […] that makes it so enriching. This is why conferences such as AMLF, where you have lawyers come together from 21 African nations to talk about their issues, is so important.”
AMLF is an opportunity to develop
“This [the AMLF] is really very valuable,” said Ilunga. “It gives us an opportunity to sit together as legal advisors, to exchange information, to share expertise and best practices. The AMLF really helps us to reinforce our capabilities and to better understand the legal systems and services of our partner nations and other countries. […] being able to learn from one another helps to reinforce our capabilities. This way we become closer and stronger. It is an extremely interesting opportunity and not only that. We get a better appreciation of the system that is provided by the United States and we are able to see the different mechanisms that are in the works as far as support for our and neighbouring countries.”
Sharing ideas and best practices
“[…] as you share ideas, best practises and get a communality, that nation states regardless whether they are on the African continent or in North America, Europe or South America - many times the issues that we face are very similar,” Maxwell said.