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Muslim Woman New Chief Prosecutor at Intl. Criminal Court: "Islam Will Help Me be Strong"

Published: 06/01/2012 09:13:47 AM GMT
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15 December 2011 On Monday, Gambia's fatou Bensouda will be confirmed as the next chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Co (more)

15 December 2011

On Monday, Gambia's fatou Bensouda will be confirmed as the next chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. She is the first Muslim woman and the first African to hold a high-level position at the court.

The Prosecutor of the ICC is in charge of the investigation and prosecution of the crimes under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. These duties will be expanded to include the crime of aggression, once that crime comes under the Court's jurisdiction in 2017.

Bensouda, who takes over from the much-maligned Luis Moreno Ocampo in June of 2012, believes her appointment sends a strong message to those who accuse the ICC of being a Western court that only pursues Africa-based cases.

"I've always said the ICC is working with and for African victims," said Bensouda, who is an African Muslim. "I also see that the ICC has used quite a lot of its preventative mandate in Africa; this is important, because we should not wait for crimes to be committed before the ICC steps in," she said.

When asked about growing up in The Gambia, and whether she dreamed of becoming the prosecutor of one of the largest and most important courts on Earth?

"I have always had aspirations about wanting to do something", she said. "But I wanted to do something for the victims, for the underdogs, and if it has to take me to this level to do that, I welcome it."

On her priorities and goals for the next nine years as a prosecutor of the ICC, she said: "The ICC is a noble, unique institution, which has been set up with very high ideals of stopping all [these crimes], preventing these crimes but also addressing these crimes, bringing accountability, bringing justice to the victims, giving them a voice."

"I hope by the end of my nine years, there will be more ratification of the Rome Statute and that other states will join. I think when its [further] credibility is established, states may be more convinced to join the ICC. I think this year alone we created a record of the number of states to have joined the ICC bringing it to 120 states at the moment."

On whether her religion plays any role in helping her do the job that she has been elected to do, she said: "Absolutely, definitely. Islam, as you know, is a religion of peace, and it gives you this inner strength, this inner ability and a sense of justice. Together with my experience, this will help a lot."

She considers her traditional African Muslim background and strong family commitments to be a strength.

Born into a polygamous family - her father had two wives - Mrs Bensouda is married to a Gambian-Moroccan businessman. They have three children - one of whom is adopted.

"I come from a big family, let's say it that way," she said in an interview earlier this month with the AFP news agency.

She told the BBC's Newshour programme that her African background would give her an additional insight into life on the continent, which would help her perform her new job.

Mrs Bensouda's appointment as chief prosecutor has been welcomed in the legal profession and among non-governmental organisations.

"She always struck us a very thoughtful person of great intellect," says Human Rights Watch senior counsel Liz Evenson.

A senior lecturer at the Melbourne Law School in Australia, Kevin Jon Heller, says she is "very qualified" for the job.

"She offers the best of both worlds - an ICC insider who offers institutional continuity, which will be critical in the coming years, but has a strong, independent voice that has not been tainted by Moreno-Ocampo's incompetent tenure," he writes on the Opinio Juris blog.

"Having spoken to numerous individuals involved in the ICC, from OTP [Office of The Prosecutor] staff to legal officers in chambers to defence attorneys, it is clear that Bensouda was the primary reason that the OTP didn't fall completely apart over the past eight years."

"I have also had the good fortune to spend time with Bensouda over the past couple of years. She is, to put it mildly, an incredibly impressive woman: smart, articulate, thoughtful - a welcome change from (her predecessor) Moreno-Ocampo - and compassionate."


"ICC's new prosecutor on Arab conflicts, how Islam plays a role in guiding her and her vision for the international court" Al Arabiya December 15, 2011

Simon Allison, "Africa: Fatou Bensouda, the woman who might save the ICC in Africa" Afrika December 13, 2011

Farouk Chothia, "Africa's Fatou Bensouda is new ICC chief prosecutor" BBC News December 12, 2011

Reproduced with permission from Islam Today