I first came to know of Rodger Chongwe in 1997; he had been shot in the head by paramilitary police in his home country, Zambia. Rodger was at that time the Chairman of a coalition of opposition parties that was campaigning to rein in the corrupt practices of the President and Government; Rodger had been the Justice Minister in that Government and had remonstrated with the President, at first in private and later in cabinet, about unconstitutional and illegal actions; eventually Rodger felt he could not in good conscience remain in post, he resigned and continued to campaign publically for Presidential probity and integrity.
As Chairman of the opposition coalition, Rodger accompanied by the former President Kenneth Kaunda was to attend a rally at Kabwe, a town about 140 Km from the capital Lusaka. Despite official authorisation for the rally, paramilitary police broke it up, detaining many supporters and without warning opened fire on the car in which Rodger was travelling. Kenneth Kaunda was grazed by a bullet but Rodger was shot in the head and was very fortunate to survive. The resourceful driver rushed Rodger to hospital from whence he was spirited out of the country to Australia.
Rodger recovered from his injuries but his conflict with the Zambian authorities was not yet over. Some months later he was on a British Airways flight that landed in Harare, Zimbabwe; British Airways and airport staff boarded the aircraft and informed Rodger that a VIP aircraft was waiting to take him to Zambia; Rodger wisely decided to remain onboard the British Airways aircraft to avoid what appeared to be an attempt to kidnap him.
For a time Rodger worked with the United Nations in Former Yugoslavia, where he became known to some of those behind the idea of ILAC. When ILAC was formally launched in 2002, it was fortunate to have Rodger’s wise counsel on the Executive Committee as Secretary, guiding ILAC through its first ten years. His first hand knowledge and experience of the realities of justice in African countries was invaluable in deciding how to proceed with involvement in Africa, while his reputation made him an obvious choice to participate in ILAC assessment teams in that continent.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to work with Rodger in ILAC’s first decade of existence and I am delighted that his contributions have been recognised by his award of Honorary Life Membership.
ILAC Chairman 2002-2011
Given his outstanding contributions to ILAC and the rule of law, Dr. Rodger Chongwe received his lifetime membership awards at our 2018 Annual General Meeting.
Dr Chongwe is a founding member and former ILAC Executive Committee fellow. He has been crucial to opening doors for ILAC in Africa. On ILAC’s behalf, he greatly contributed to Partners for Gender Justice project, a series of High-level meetings among ILAC, United Nations, local governments, other NGOs and academics to discuss the role of the judiciary in promoting gender justice in several countries, including Liberia, Ghana and Haiti. Dr Chongwe also took part on the ILAC mission team on Liberia and later on assisted during the planning phase of ILAC programme in that country.
Dr Chongwe is also a former Minister of Justice and Minister of Local Government and Housing of the Republic of Zambia as well as a former President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, an ILAC member organisation.
Founded in 2002, ILAC brings together more than 50 professional associations and legal professionals from all over the world to share their wealth of expertise with national stakeholders who are rebuilding their justice institutions in countries that are in conflict, post conflict, or in transition to peace and democracy.
Other Lifetime members are: Christian Åhlund (founding ILAC Executive Director), Guiseppe Bisconti (former International Bar Association President), Hans Corell (Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations), Mike Enwall (former ILAC Representative in Liberia), Paul Hoddinott (founding ILAC Chair), William Meyer (former ILAC Chair), Anne Ramberg (former ILAC treasurer), Francisco Diaz Rodriguez (former ILAC representative in Haiti), Joan D. Winship (ILAC founding member) and A.J. Bennazar Zequeira (former ILAC Board of Directors member)