High hopes for new ICC prosecutor

The International Criminal Court has a new chief prosecutor.

(Update below – Update 1)

Fatou Bensounda, of The Gambia, was sworn in as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court 17 June 2012. Photo by Prachatai; available via Flickr through Creative Commons License.

Sworn in just this summer, Fatou Bensouda will take the lead in the fight against the worst violators of human rights abuses around the world. The Gambian former judge is the first woman and first African to head the team of prosecutors, and only the second chief prosecutor the court has ever had. She follows Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Argentine human rights lawyer who led the group for nearly a decade.

In the years since the court’s opening, proceedings against  individuals in seven “situations” are ongoing for charges including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Much of the courts work has been applauded in the last decade, especially considering that the Court was the first of its kind – a permanent court for international justice in which countries signed on through the Rome Statute. Just this year the court found Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the first trial defendant, guilty for conscripting and using children as soldiers in aggression in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many called this a “major step in the global fight against impunity” [PDF].

However, some individuals and women’s rights organisations [PDF] have expressed disappointment that the court, in the most recent case, did not pursue charges directly related to sexual violence and rape.

Bensounda has been overwhelmingly and enthusiastically welcomed by those who know her skilled work as a deputy prosecutor to the ICC for the last eight years, and previous experience investigating atrocities during the Rwandan genocide as a legal advisor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  She has previously spoken out very clearly on the need to pursue cases involving rape and sexual violence against women in armed conflict; as deputy investigator, she said:

The cases that are before the ICC today are helping to focus on the use of gender crimes and sexual violence as a weapon of war. That is what we are doing. In all our cases that we are investigating today, we have tried to bring focus to this particular serious crime of using violence, rape, sex, violence against women during the time of conflict as a weapon.

And in her interviews and public statements, Bensounda has almost never failed to mention the victims of the war crimes and atrocities that her work is driven by. In fact, Bensounda was a presenter at a symposium on “Providing Reparation and Treatment, Preventing Impunity” at the IRCT’s International Symposium on Torture in 2006. There, she spoke about the experiences and challenges of prosecuting international crimes, such as protecting witnesses in situations of ongoing armed conflict. [PDF of Symposium Abstracts]

And on 7 August, the Court released its first decision on reparations for victims, thus allowing for the victims of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo to apply for reparations for the crimes. Brigid Inder, Executive Director of Executive Director of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, a human rights organisation focused on ensuring justice for women through the ICC, has said [PDF]:

This decision recognises that reparations is a key feature of the Rome Statute and therefore of the mandate of the ICC. Reparations is possibly the most tangible representation of the justice process for victims, especially for those who have had little access to or information about the formal legal proceedings.

We at the IRCT, along with many members of civil society, welcome the new leadership of Fatou Bensounda.

Update 1: Yesterday, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, a coalition of civil society0, legal experts on international justice, and lawyers that focus on gender-based violence cases within the International Criminal Court, has announced [PDF] that their executive director Brigid Inder has been appointed by Fatou Bensounda to be a special gender advisor to the prosecutor.

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