Fatou Bensouda ( Fatou Bom Bensouda), born 31 January 1961, a Gambian lawyer, former government civil servant, international criminal law prosecutor and legal adviser. She has been the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor since June 2012, after having served as a Deputy Prosecutor in charge of the Prosecutions Division of the ICC since 2004. She has held positions of Legal Adviser and Trial Attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
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.
“Bensouda clearly satisfied all of the political and merit-based criteria to become the ICC’s chief prosecutor,” Mr Kersten says.
“The AU has been adamant that an African candidate would be selected, and they got their wish,” writes UK-based law blogger Mark Kersten on the Justice in Conflict blog.
He says the AU’s hand was strengthened by the fact that African countries form the largest bloc in the ASP. Yet the ICC’s various organs – including the presidency and registry – were headed by people from other continents.
She told the BBC’s Newshour programme that her African background would give her an additional insight into life on the continent, which would help her perform her new job.
The appointment of Mrs Bensouda, who has been Mr Moreno-Ocampo’s deputy throughout his tenure, was unanimously approved at a meeting of the legislative body of the ICC, the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), in New York.
Bensouda said she had been “proud” to have worked with Mr Moreno-Ocampo and so may not bring a radically different approach.
Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court
On 12 December 2011, Ms Fatou Bensouda of The Gambia was elected by consensus Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court by the Assembly of States Parties. Ms Bensouda was sworn in on 15 June 2012.
Ms Bensouda had previously held the position of ICC Deputy Prosecutor (Prosecutions), having been elected with an overwhelming majority by the Assembly of States Parties on 8 August 2004 and serving as such until May 2012.
Prior to her work at the International Criminal Court, Ms Bensouda worked as Legal Adviser and Trial Attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, rising to the position of Senior Legal Advisor and Head of The Legal Advisory Unit.
Before joining the ICTR, she was General Manager of a leading commercial bank in The Gambia. Between 1987 and 2000, she was successively Senior State Counsel, Principal State Counsel, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Solicitor General and Legal Secretary of the Republic, and Attorney General and Minister of Justice, in which capacity she served as Chief Legal Advisor to the President and Cabinet of The Republic of The Gambia.
Ms 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 served as delegate to United Nations conferences on crime prevention, the Organization of African Unity’s Ministerial Meetings on Human Rights, and as delegate of The Gambia to the meetings of the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court.
Ms Bensouda holds a masters degree in International Maritime Law and Law of The Sea and as such is the first international maritime law expert of The Gambia.
“She always struck us a very thoughtful person of great intellect,” says Human Rights Watch senior counsel Liz Evenson.
A senior lecturer at the Melbourne Law School in Australia, Kevin Jon Heller, says Mr Cayley would have been an “excellent” chief prosecutor, but Mrs Bensouda was also “very qualified” for the job.
“She offers the best of both worlds – an ICC insider who offers institutional continuity, which will be critical in the coming years, but has a strong, independent voice that has not been tainted by Moreno-Ocampo’s incompetent tenure,” he writes on the Opinio Juris blog.
“Having spoken to numerous individuals involved in the ICC, from OTP [Office of The Prosecutor] staff to legal officers in chambers to defence attorneys, it is clear that Bensouda was the primary reason that the OTP didn’t fall completely apart over the past eight years.”
“I have also had the good fortune to spend time with Bensouda over the past couple of years. She is, to put it mildly, an incredibly impressive woman: smart, articulate, thoughtful (a welcome change from Moreno-Ocampo) and compassionate.”
Mrs Bensouda was once a politician, with Gambian President Yahya Jammeh – who took power in a coup in 1994 and is accused of harassing the opposition and the press – appointing her as justice minister in 1998. But the two fell out and Mr Jammeh sacked her about two years later.
“She was relieved of her duties while she was abroad,” Gambian opposition leader Ousainou Darboe told the BBC.
“She is a fantastic person, and showed genuine concern about human rights issues [in The Gambia].”
She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the distinguished International Court of Justice (ICJ) International Jurists Award (2009), presented by the then-President of India, P D Patil; the 2011 World Peace Through Law Award presented by the Whitney Harris World Law Institute, the American Society of International Law’s Honorary Membership Award (2014), the XXXV Peace Prize by the UN Association of Spain (2015), and the Praeses Elit Award (2015).
In addition to receiving several honorary doctorates, Bensouda has been listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world (2012 and 2017); by New African magazine as one of the ‘Most Influential Africans’; by Foreign Policy as one of the ‘Leading Global Thinkers’ (2013) and by Jeune Afrique as one of 50 African women who, by their actions and initiatives in their respective roles, advance the African continent (2014 and 2015).
Mrs Bensouda is married to a Gambian-Moroccan businessman. They have three children – one of whom is adopted.
- Fatou Bensouda Biography and Profile (ICC)