ICC’s new prosecutor on Arab conflicts, how Islam plays a role in guiding her and her vision for the international court

Fatou Bensouda says that Islam will help her be strong in her new role as ICC prosecutor. (Reuters)

Fatou Bensouda, who takes over from Luis Moreno Ocampo in June of 2012, believes her appointment sends a strong message to those who say the ICC is a Western court that pursues Africa-based cases.

“I’ve always said the ICC is working with and for African victims," said Bensouda, who is an African Muslim. “I also see that the ICC has used quite a lot of its preventative mandate in Africa; this is important, because we should not wait for crimes to be committed before the ICC steps in,” she said.

Asked whether she believed Sudan’s President would ever see the Hague, she replied, “absolutely.”

Pressed further as to whether it would happen during her tenure of nine years, she said “it was possible. His ultimate destiny is in the Hague.”

On a popular topic being debated in the Middle East, extra-judicial killings – as seen in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and Osama bin Laden in Pakistan – Bensouda was asked whether she thought whether extrajudicial killing could ever be justified.

She replied, “Absolutely not. These are crimes against humanity, as you know. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial and if it’s the law that decides that this is how it should be executed, then that is the law.”

On whether Nobel laureate Tawwakul Karman (who visited the ICC on November 28 and submitted numerous documents, including photos of victims and witness accounts during the crackdown on pro-democracy protests) asked the court to start an investigation into President Ali Abdullah Saleh, she said that the court could not intervene “because they are not ICC.”

When asked to shed light on the immunity deal that Saleh signed under a Gulf initiative and whether it prevents the ICC from taking steps against Saleh, she said that there are no immunities under the international court.

During a discussion on Libya, the prosecutor-elect was asked if one would continue to see the same pace at which the court moved in addressing issues, and she said it would.

“If you recall, things were moving very fast in Libya and I do not think it was for us as the office to lag behind. There was a momentum that was building and a justice component is a big part of that momentum, and the prosecutor and the team thought that we needed to be there, and the office moved very fast,” she said.

“For the first time we received a unanimous resolution from the U.N. Security Council, with even non-member states of the ICC also voting to have that resolution. It was good that we acted and moved in the way that we did, as fast as possible and joined others with different mandate to address the issues in Libya.”

Al Arabiya asked Bensouda whether she, as prosecutor of the ICC, would refuse a referral, if she didn’t believe in it; she replied “absolutely”.

On the Libyans wanting to try Seif al-Islam Qaddafi in their country, Bensouda explained that they had already written a letter to the judges of the pre-trial chamber expressing their desires, “but it has to be a formal challenge of admissibility of the case. I believe they’re preparing to do that. They are now acting under Article 94, in which they can defer the request to surrender.”

She also said the chances of their request being accepted or rejected “will depend on what they present. If they are genuinely investigating and prosecuting the crimes that we have charged Seiif al-Islam with, they have a right to do it. The primacy to investigate and prosecute will always be with the state.”

Al Arabiya spoke to her about growing up in Gambia, and whether she dreamed of becoming the prosecutor of one of the largest and most important courts in the land, on the globe?

“I have always had aspirations about wanting to do something, she said. “But I wanted to do something for the victims, for the underdogs, and if it has to take me to this level to do that, I welcome it.”

On her priorities and goals for the next nine years as a prosecutor of the ICC, she said: “The ICC is a noble, unique institution, which has been set up with very high ideals of stopping all [these crimes], preventing these crimes but also addressing these crimes, bringing accountability, bringing justice to the victims, giving them a voice.”

“I hope by the end of my nine years, there will be more ratification of the Rome Statute and that other states will join. I think when its [further] credibility is established, states may be more convinced to join the ICC. I think this year alone we created a record of the number of states to have joined the ICC bringing it to 120 states at the moment.”

On whether her religion plays any role in helping her do the job that she has been elected to do, she said: “Absolutely, definitely. Islam, as you know, is a religion of peace, and it gives you this inner strength, this inner ability and a sense of justice. Together with my experience, this will help a lot.”

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