Successful completion of first Africa Military Legal Conference


The first Africa Military Legal Conference hosted by US Africa Command (AFRICOM) concluded May 21, 2010 at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center in Accra, Ghana.

The three-day conference brought together lawyers and other legal experts from 15 African countries and was the first of its kind to bring legal professionals together to discuss common challenges.

Sergeant Major Rod Celestaine provided the group an overview of the role of the noncommissioned officer in the modern military, noncommissioned officer professional development, and the paralegal training in the US military.

This discussion promoted an exchange of mutual development ideas for future engagements and provided attendees with a snapshot of International Military Education and Training (IMET) opportunities available via The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School for interested partner nations.

Two discussion sessions of common interest — military justice and maritime law and counter-narcotics authorities — were featured on the last day of the conference, just before the closing ceremonies.

Major Joy Primoli of 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa) and Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Tuckey, U.S. Army Africa, led a discussion about the US military justice system.

The facilitators and attendees discussed challenges that common law countries face in applying military disciplinary rules to maintain good order and discipline while ensuring that unlawful command influence does not corrupt the system. Countries using civilian justice systems for military offenses discussed challenges in case processing, including the lack of resources to dispense timely justice.

A participant from an African military asked what could be done if a commander makes a decision contrary to the legal counsel’s advice or is not consistent with the Rule of Law.
“I think this is an issue that attorneys struggle with everywhere,” Tuckey said. “We cannot ensure that what we want to see happens actually happens. Our [role] is that we should try to do what we can to ensure that the commander stays within the left and right boundaries. Our obligation is to provide them advice and counsel, but they [the commanders] … make the final decision in what to do.”

He explained that sometimes a commander’s decision is not in conflict with the Rule of Law but is just contrary to what the counselor recommended. For those instances when an illegal decision has been made though, Tuckey explained that in the US there are other regulatory agencies and investigatory powers that would look into the matter.

Commander Luke Reid of the Defense International Institute of Legal Studies in Newport, RI and Commander Peter Rodnite of U.S. Naval Forces Africa led discussions regarding application of international and domestic law to problems of intercepting illegal narcotics in the maritime realm, focusing on the importance of maritime law to operations such as the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP).

Reid explained that if a nation’s goal is to successfully interdict, arrest and prosecute drug traffickers that certain questions have to be asked. Are the appropriate authorities, both international and domestic laws, in place to achieve the goal? Are there enough resources and capacity, whether ships, planes, or people, to complete the mission? Is the staff receiving the appropriate training and do they have the right competencies?

But, the most important piece according to Reid is partnership.
“Partnership in the counternarcotics world, as in many other areas of maritime law enforcement, is the most important piece to any type of successful mission,” Reid told the audience. “And here in Western Africa you have great opportunity to partner, not only with the United States but with each other in the suppression of narcotics trafficking.”

Colonel Leo Hirschmann, a German officer serving a three year assignment as the Director of Training at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Center, closed the conference with encouraging words for the participants and for the future, stressing how important it was for military legal professionals to consult each other regularly on difficult problems.

Hirschmann said, “The foundation for peace is respect for the law. We as militaries must serve as leaders in providing peace not merely by deploying as peacekeepers, but by being models at home in respecting the principles of law by example and through fair and even application of law to those who commit crimes within the Armed Forces. … We must all be vigilant in ensuring our military personnel are not only well informed and practiced in effective military tactics, but that they are also well informed about how they are expected to conduct themselves and the legal standards to which they will be held.”

The US Africa Command Office of Legal Counsel is proud to have been part of such an important conference and plans to organize a second annual military legal conference in the spring of 2011 — location and topics to be determined.