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The International Court’s New Prosecutor

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Fatou Bensouda has been named the new prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, nominated by consensus by the Assembly of States Parties, which manages the court. She begins her nine-year term on June 16, 2012.

Bensouda replaces Luis Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine who seeks the spotlight and has served as the court’s first and only prosecutor, most recently orchestrating the extradition of Laurent Gbagbo, former president of Ivory Coast, to The Hague for trial on charges of rape and murder.

Bensouda, 50, was officially elected at the 10th session of the Assembly of States Parties on Dec. 12 at UN headquarters in New York. She is from Gambia, a country of 1.8 million slivered between Senegal in West Africa.

As the first African to take the prosecution post, her presence may help deflect criticism by the African Union and others that the court has a bias against African leaders, given that all its current cases involve people from the region.

Fatou Bensouda, deputy prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, has been named the chief prosecutor. Bensouda, from Gambia, is shown here in Guinea in 2010. JOE PENNEY

“She will bring both change and continuity to the office of the prosecutor,” said Matthew Heaphy, deputy convener of the American Nongovernmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court, based at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. “She has been a strong voice for the victims, including women and children, of the worst atrocity crimes in the ICC’s first cases.”

This week, a “gender report card,” published by the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice, said that the court has been “increasingly responsive” to investigating and prosecuting gender-based crimes like sexual violence. The court, for example, has opened two such investigations in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire; it has seven other situations under investigation, all in Africa. Yet these types of crimes are “the most vulnerable category” addressed by the court, Brigid Inder, executive director of the Women’s Initiative, said in a statement.

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So, Bensouda has her work cut out for her. She has been the deputy prosecutor of the court since 2004; before that, she was the senior legal adviser at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania, which is trying people accused of being responsible for the 1994 massacre.

From 1987 to 2000, Bensouda worked in various legal capacities in Gambia, including attorney general and minister of justice, serving as chief legal adviser to the president and the cabinet. When the country was taken over by Yahya Jammeh in a coup in 1994, Bensouda was eventually ousted and became head of a Gambian bank, media reports say.

Bensouda has a master’s degree in international maritime law and law of the sea, having attended the University of Ife (renamed Obafemi Awolowo University) in Nigeria, Nigerian Law School and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute in Malta. She is married to a Gambian-Moroccan businessman and they have three children.

In other changes at the court, Tiina Intelmann, an Estonian, was named president of the Assembly of State Parties, replacing Christian Wenaweser from Lichtenstein. Six new judges are to be named to the court during the 10th Assembly session, which ends Dec. 21.

Recent developments in Kenya, where the supreme court said it supported the arrest of anyone indicted by the International Criminal Court, marked an important move, given that both Malawi and Chad failed to abide by the Hague court’s mandate to arrest Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, when he visited those countries this year. Bashir is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The court is also busy with such recent activity as the arrest of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, a son of Col. Muammar Qaddafi, who died in October.


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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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