Born and raised in Somalia, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf wanted to become a doctor. Unfortunately, there were no medical schools at the time in Mogadishu, which led him to pursue a law degree instead. Fifty years later, on 6 February 2018, he was appointed President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), only the third African to have ever held this position.
Prior to joining the ICJ as a judge in 2009, Yusuf held various positions in academic institutions, multilateral bodies and international organisations in Vienna, Geneva and New York. He taught law at the National University of Somalia (1974-1981) and at the University of Geneva (1981-1983) before working for various UN agencies for more than 20 years: he was successively Head of the legal service of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (1987-1992) then its representative in New York (1992-1994). He was also Legal Adviser (1994-1998) then Deputy to the Director-General of African Affairs (1998 - 2001) of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Finally, he moved to UNESCO to be Legal Adviser and Director of the Office of International Norms and Standards and of Legal Affairs of the organisation between 2001 and 2009. With over thirty years of experience in international law, Mr Yusuf became a leading expert in his field.
Yusuf eventually joined the ICJ as a judge in 2009 and was quickly elected Vice-president of the Court in 2015 and President in 2018. Since joining the ICJ, he oversaw a plethora of cases, including “Obligation to negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean (Bolivia. v. Chile), the Jadhav case (India v. Pakistan) and “Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 (Advisory Opinion of 25 February 2019)”. His extensive career has made him a skillful and appreciated guest professor and lecturer at a number of universities and institutes in Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Somalia and France.
From The Hague, he continues to spread the theory and practice of international law as seen from an African perspective. In fact, on top of his functions at the ICJ, he is also the Founder and General Editor of the African Yearbook of International Law, and one of the Founders of the African Foundation for International Law. The latter was founded in 2003 with the aim of teaching African lawyers about international law. This initiative stemmed from his conviction that the numerous conventions, protocols and multilateral agreements that apply between African countries should be conducted by individuals of African origin.