A new prosecutor for the ICC: more of the same or a fresh start?

Published: 14 Jun 2012
By: Dismas Nkunda

Tomorrow, June 15, Madam Fatou Bensouda will be sworn in as the new prosecutor for the ICC taking over from Luis Moreno Ocampo whose term has ended.

Mme Bensouda takes up this high profile position at a time when much controversy surrounds the ICC. Mr. Ocampo has had numerous run-ins with a number of governments – in fact entire continents – during his reign as Chief Prosecutor, and many questions are being asked about the efficacy of investigations.  In particular, with the issuance of arrest warrants against three former or current Heads of State, it would be no exaggeration to say that on his watch, the politics of International Justice have taken a new turn – and not necessarily one that is positive.

Part of the problem has been the conduct of Mr Ocampo who has often appeared more of a blustering politician than a cautious first international prosecutor for an extraordinary, but vulnerable, new Court. And, of course, since the Court started operations, Mme Bensouda – who was his deputy – has kept a low profile allowing her boss to do most of the talking. Her election as the new prosecutor has been hailed by many as an opportunity to move away from all this controversy – an opportunity to prove the many ICC doubters out there that the Office of the Prosecutor does not take sides in global politics but  simply does the work of pursuing international criminals relentlessly – wherever they may hide.

There is some hope: the new prosecutor has been described as “good listener and mother” yet a very firm person who will not tolerate impunity. She also has strong political and legal credentials for doing the job – she previously served as Solicitor-General of Gambia, as well as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, advising both the President and Cabinet of the Gambia. She was also Legal Adviser and Trial Attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

So, with all this experience can she walk the line between taking on board the genuine disquiet about the direction of prosecutorial strategy and operations while standing up to those in power who have a real interest in destroying the Court? The Court has struggled under a huge weight of expectation from those who have suffered mass atrocities across the world. It has also come under fire for delivery of “partial justice”. Particularly in Africa.

At the same time, Mme Bensouda’s African credentials have also become a source of speculation. Will she cool down the much described hostility by African governments that have labeled the court “anti- African”? Will she use her skills to convince African states, which combined have the highest rate of ratification of the Rome Statute on any continent, that indeed the ICC is not against Africans but  is a judicial body that simply operates where there is a case to answer?

For sure, as she steps in as the second prosecutor of this world court, expectations are high – that she will re-cast the Ocampo image and create a new beginning for a Court. Or will it take more than a change of chief prosecutor to resolve the many problems facing the Court?

Programmes: Justice and Accountability
Type: IRRI Blog