Friday, June 15, 2012

Fatou Bensouda: Sworn in as Chief Prosecutor of the ICC

Article 42 (3) of the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC), states that the Prosecutor (and Deputy Prosecutors) of the ICC shall, among other things, be "persons of high moral character, be highly competent in and have extensive experience in the prosecution or trial of criminal cases." A woman from Gambia, Fatou Bensouda, meets this criteria and has been sworn in as the new chief prosecutor of the ICC in The Hague. She has gone down in history as the second person, first woman and first African to hold the post.

Fatou Bensouda, a former Justice Minister of The Gambia, now heads the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC.

As head of the Office of the Prosecutor, she is responsible for the daunting task laid down in Article 42 of the Rome Statute. Her office is responsible for receiving referrals and information on crimes within the jurisdiction of the court, examining them and conducting investigations and prosecutions before the court.

Fatou Bensouda officially became the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC on 15 June 2012 after she was sworn in at a ceremony in The Hague. She was reportedly elected by consensus on 12 December 2011.

Her predecessor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, served as Chief Prosecutor from from 16 June 2003 to 15 June 2012. During his term in office, he opened investigations into seven situations - all in Africa: Sudan (Darfur), the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya and Ivory Coast.

Fatou Bensouda was Moreno-Ocampo's Deputy Prosecutor.

The ICC has been criticized for disproportionately targeting Africans. Hopefully Fatou Bensouda, a daughter of Africa, would take the court in a new direction and silence critics of international justice. She should have the courage to conduct investigations in Africa and beyond. Only in this way would she help restore the credibility of the ICC in the eyes of many Africans who are suspicious of the court and condemn it for "selective justice" and double standards.

The African Union (AU) reportedly endorsed Fatou Bensouda's candidature and "lobbied intensely" for her to be selected. She should thank the AU for the support, but what she should not do is turn a blind eye to crimes committed in Africa. She should keep the pressure on African perpetrators and look elsewhere at the same time for crimes under the jurisdiction of the court. Well-documented international crimes committed by George W. Bush and his cohorts is a good place to start. Calls by human rights groups, including Amnesty International, for George W. Bush to be brought to justice, have not been heeded - even after he attempted to justify torture. The failure to investigate George W. Bush and other western public figures like Donald Rumfeld, Dick Cheney, just to name a few for their roles in international crimes puts the credibility of international justice into question.

With a new Chief Prosecutor in office, the ICC has an opportunity to clear all doubts about its motives by ensuring that not only Africans are brought before the court. Not only Africans commit crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the court.

Fatou Bensouda must not wait for referrals by governments or the UN Security Council. She has the independent power, in accordance with Article 15 of the Rome Statute, to open investigations proprio motu. Luis Moreno-Ocampo opened investigations proprio motu in Kenya and Ivory Coast. The prosecutor of the ICC could use this power to initiate investigations in cases where there is lack of political will to bring perpetrators of heinous crimes to justice. Talking about lack of political will - crimes [allegedly] authorized by George W. Bush of the US and Bashar al-Assad of Syria immediately come to mind.

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