Gambia’s Fatou Bensouda has been sworn in as the new chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) replacing Luis Moreno Ocampo, who has been the chief prosecutor since 2003.
Bensouda, 51, has been serving as the deputy prosecutor at the ICC since 2004 and becomes the first woman and first African to head the 300-strong team of prosecutors at the tribunal.
Shortly after taking the oath of office, she pledged to carry out her duties acting in full independence and impartiality, and to expeditiously work on the 11 arrest warrants that have been issued against fugitives.
She said massive crimes continue to be committed in Darfur, acts of violence by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army continue un-abetted in Central Africa and Bosco Ntaganda is still a fugitive of the ICC.
"Nothing will fall short of arresting all these whose warrants have been issued to ensure that justice is done for the millions of victims of crimes committed by these fugitives," she added.
Bensouda is considered competent and well versed in the operations of UN war crimes tribunals.
Deterrent to future crimes against humanity
After studying law in Nigeria, Fatou Bensouda began her career in Gambia in 1987, rising to become a senior prosecutor in her country.
Before joining the ICC, Bensouda worked at the UN criminal tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. There she served as a Legal Adviser and Trial Attorney before rising to the position of Senior Legal Advisor and Head of the Legal Advisory Unit.
At the UN tribunal in Arusha she helped to clear up the atrocities committed in Rwanda and firmly believes that the work of the ICC will help to prevent crimes against humanity, particularly in Africa, in the future.
"The signatories of the Rome Statute have clearly recognized that there is a substantial connection between justice and peace," said Bensouda. If serious crimes no longer go unpunished, perpetrators will have to think twice before committing crimes against humanity.
Knows the ICC from the inside
Bensouda wants to see Kony and Ntaganda brough to justice
Professor Kai Ambos, head of the Department for Foreign and International Criminal Law at the University of Göttingen, knows the new chief prosecutor personally. He believes she was the most suitable person to replace Ocampo because of her origins. As a woman and an African she is "important for the court's legitimacy."
Several proceedings at the ICC involve African suspects. Kai Ambos says her chances of being a successful chief prosecutor are good, because she knows the various criticisms levelled against her predecessor Ocampo from the inside.
"Bensouda is aware of the leadership problems that have plagued such an important institution and could do the job better than Ocampo," said Kai.
"Despite the various criticisms against Ocampo's leadership style at the ICC, Bensouda's reputation, as his deputy, remained intact," he added.
Kai says Ocampo was routinely criticized for "indecisiveness". It was also alleged he treated employees with a lack of respect, prompting many to leave.
There was also criticism of the delays in the trial of former DRC rebel leader Thomas Lubanga. This paved the way for agreement between ICC member states on the need to look for a replacement for Ocampo.
'Fight against impunity no post-colonial issue'
Africans wonder why only Africans are on trial at the ICC
It is incomprehensible to many Africans that only Africans are in the dock at the ICC.Many believe that the tribunal is "white" justice designed to try only Africans.
Almost all arrest warrants that have been issued by the court have to do with Africans: they include Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, rebel leader of the Lord's Resistance Army Joseph Kony and the Democratic Republic of Congo's Bosco Ntaganda.
In contrast, Fatou Bensouda vehemently defends the court. "The fight against impunity is no post-colonial issue and African countries supported the creation of the court," she said.
More than 30 African countries signed the Rome Statute and thus are members of the ICC. Nearly a third of the judges at the International Criminal Court come from Africa.
Author: Lina Hoffmann / im
Editor: Mark Caldwell, Spencer Kimball