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Gambians welcome Fatou Bensouda’s ICC appointment

Dec 13, 2011, 1:47 PM | Article By: Baboucarr Senghore

Having been widely criticized by mostly Africans for its concentration on Africa, hope is rising across the African continent that the International Criminal Court, ICC, will no more be politicized now that it has an African as its chief prosecutor.

Gambian-born Fatou Bensouda has been appointed as the new chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, becoming the first African to hold the top post at the ICC.

Mrs Bensouda, a former senior legal adviser at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is trying key figures responsible for the 1994 genocide in the Central African state, got the job ahead of three other short-listed candidates.

They were Andrew Cayley, the British co-prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia; Tanzania’s chief justice Mohamed Chande Othman; and Canadian war crimes specialist Robert Petit.

“To make an African head such an International Tribunal to handle such matters is in line with the principles of justice and fairness,” Gambian sociologist and leading opposition politician Halifa Sallah said in his reaction to the news.

“It is a welcome development, and we do hope that she will leave a legacy that will change the image that some people have of the institution, and transform it into a citadel to combat impunity in the world,” Sallah added.

Many Africans, he pointed out, have complained that the ICC is focusing only on African leaders or leaders from countries that are not linked to the West.

“We hope that having a prosecutor from Africa, and a country like The Gambia with a small population, would eradicate the view many had held that the institution is being politicized to serve the interest of the strong against the weak; the North against the South”.

Born on 31 January 1961, Fatou received a bachelor-in-law degree from OAU University in Nigeria and a barrister in-law degree from the Nigeria Law School.

In addition, she holds a master’s degree in International Maritime Law and the Law of the Sea. This makes her the first international maritime law expert of The Gambia.

Bensouda was elected Deputy Prosecutor of the Court by the Assembly of States Parties on 8th September 2004 and since then has headed and overseen the Prosecution Division of the Office of the Prosecutor.

In 2009, she received the International Jurists Award for her contributions to national and international criminal law.

Before joining the ICTR, she was the General Manager of a leading commercial bank in the country.

“Her accomplishment has put The Gambia on the map in such a positive light. Her appointment without a doubt signifies the commitment she has had to excellence. I am deeply proud of her as a woman, and a Gambian. Mrs. Bensouda is an exemplary model, and I wish her the best,” Fatim Badjie, Minister of Health and Social Welfare also told this paper yesterday.

Mrs Jainaba Nyang of Action-Aid International The Gambia, who is an elder sister of Mrs Bensouda, also told this paper yesterday that Fatou Bensouda’s appointment is a good achievement for the country.

The Gambia, Jainaba added, is a very small country, and this shows that the country can be where other countries around the world are.

“I cannot agree more with what others say. I am speaking from a Gambian perspective, and I can say that we are a small country but we can achieve great things. We can only wish her well and pray for her for God’s guidance. I must also thank all those who supported her during the process,” Nyang added.

Between 1987 and 2000, Bensouda was successively Senior State Counsel, Principal State Counsel, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Solicitor General and Legal Secretary of the Republic of The Gambia, then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, in which capacity she served as Chief Legal Advisor to President Yahya Jammeh and his Cabinet.

Mrs Bensouda also took part in negotiations on the treaty of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Parliament and the ECOWAS Tribunal.

She has been a delegate at United Nations’ conferences on crime prevention, the Organization of African Unity’s Ministerial Meetings on Human Rights, and the delegate of the Gambia to the meetings of the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court.

“As a Gambian and African, Fatou’s appointment will further put Gambia on the world map and would go a long way in telling the whole world what The Gambia is capable of doing, despite being a small country,” Ousman Sonko, minister of the Interior told The Point newspaper.

While congratulating and commending Fatou Bensouda for her hard work and steadfastness, Sonko said Fatou’s commitment and steadfastness made her get the position.

“We are very proud of Fatou Bensouda, and we continue to pray for her for Allah’s guidance and protection. We will give her all the support in order for her to discharge her duties as expected. Having worked with her as a colleague, we have no doubt that she is the right guy for the position, because she is honest, sincere and devoted all her time to duty and serving humanity,” Sonko added.

“We are all very proud of Fatou Bensouda’s achievements. This is not only an achievement for her and The Gambia alone, but for the whole of Africa and the rest of the world,” Hamat Bah told this paper.

Leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party, Bah dismissed suggestions that the ICC has over the years been only investigating atrocities in Africa.

“Some African leaders have accused the International Criminal Court of only concentrating on Africa, but this is bogus because we have more of them committing crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide which are all against the ICC principles,” he said.

“There is no witch-hunting against them. All that the ICC wants is for African leaders to act in accordance with international law,” Bah added.

“It is a very tough job, but we have no doubt that she will scale through, because she has the know-how and the expertise to succeed,” he further noted.