UNITED NATIONS - Gambian jurist Fatou B. Bensouda was recently elected chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. She told reporters at a UN press conference in New York that “being an African had nothing to do with her mandate as prosecutor” of the court.
Ms. Bensouda was overheard in a UN corridor telling a reporter that her experience inside the court, where she served as deputy prosecutor since 2004, was the key element in her new appointment. The veteran jurist told reporters she “disagreed” with the notion that the court was “targeting” Africa or African leaders. The ICC is working for Africa and with African leaders, she insisted, adding, “We will target the perpetrators of the crimes and continue to work with victims in Africa and outside Africa.”
The reason the ICC has been charged with disproportionately targeting African leaders stems from the fact that only Africans are the subjects of ongoing investigations. To date 25 individuals have open cases pertaining to alleged crimes in six African nations: Libya, Kenya, Sudan (Darfur), Uganda (The Lord’s Resistance Army), the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Cote d’Ivoire. Investigations are also underway in Guinea and Nigeria, according to ICC records.
Some observers say Ms. Bensouda’s appointment is just what the ICC needs to revive its reputation on the African continent. Some African nations had also demanded that the next chief prosecutor come from Africa.
A Deputy Justice Minister in South Africa applauded the Dec. 12 appointment, according to reports, saying the selection was significant in light of the ongoing investigations and prosecutions relating to crimes committed in Africa.
“I think the ICC knows it has an image problem, because it has focused merely on the criminality of African leaders, while dismissing the criminality of White leaders, which is greater,” Mr. Wareham said.
A reporter for the Los Angeles Times during a November interview asked Mr. Moreno-Ocampo to respond to the criticism that the ICC was “picking on Africa.”
“This comes from (Sudanese President Omar) al-Bashir; this is propaganda,” Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said. “We don’t ignore African victims because they are African. President Al-Bashir of Sudan is wanted on a 2009 ICC warrant for three counts of genocide and five counts of crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. The African Union has forbidden its member states from executing the warrant.
The ICC, also known as the Rome Statute, is a legally binding treaty between nations created in 1998 in Rome, Italy, and entered into force on July 1, 2002. It established a permanent, independent court to investigate and bring to justice individuals who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Some international law experts say the relationship between the UN and the ICC is cause for concern.
Although not a UN body, the ICC through the Rome Statute provides that the court may be forced to take certain situations into account by the UN Security Council and that the Security Council may, in effect, block certain prosecutions.
Some observers say efforts by the ICC and its prosecutor in issuing the warrants against Libyan officials, and its inaction against Israeli officials, raise questions about the impartiality, integrity, independence and competence of the ICC to contribute to international justice.
“Africans being persecuted has been the problem at the UN since its inception of the UN; and the appointment of an African to head the ICC replicates the UN’s heavy-handed attempt to disguise its racism,” Mr. Wareham said.