'We are not against Africa': but can she bring any real change to Africa-ICC relations?

Author:Eze, Mercy
Position:Fatou Bensouda - International Criminal Court - Interview

After the deluge of criticisms against the International Criminal Court's apparent bias or selective prosecutions against Africans, it is now the turn of the Court to talk back. And who better to do it than Fatou Bensouda, the first African to be appointed as chief prosecutor of the Court, who took office in mid-June. She denies the Court has unfairly focused on Africa, and that "what offends [her] the most when [she] hear[s] criticisms about this so-called Africa bias' is how quick we are to focus on the words and propaganda of a few powerful, influential individuals, and to forget about the millions of anonymous people who suffer from their crimes". Our associate editor Mercy Eze interviewed Bensouda, a former attorney general and chief justice of The Gambia, and the lady was not for turning: "No one," she declared, "will divert me from the course of justice". Here are excerpts.

Q: I have had the opportunity to interview you in the past, and can still recall the debate generated by your appointment as the attorney general and justice minister of The Gambia. Pundits attested to your down-to-earth and no-nonsense nature at the time; they said either you "get sacked" or you "quit" on principle if some executive order attempted to undermine your belief in justice. Truly, you did not forget your principles and so you were ousted. How far, as the ICC's chief prosecutor, can you implement such a policy during your tenure?

A: I don't think that the in States Parties that formed the ICC had done that only to turn round and formulate policies that would run contrary to its mandate. Justice is not a pick and choose system! To be effective, to be just, and to be a real deterrent, the activities and decisions of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) will continue to be based solely on the law and the evidence.

In turn, the OTP's decisions and those of the Court in general must be respected and implemented. This is the only way to sustain and strengthen the system of international criminal justice created by the ICC's Rome Statute. It requires the efforts of all to act within the system.

Q: The ICC celebrated its 10th anniversary on 1 July. Tiina Intelman, president of the Assembly of ICC's State Parties, saw the occasion as a time for stock taking. How do you appraise the achievements and shortcomings of the last 10 years?

I can say that the ICC has achieved a lot, when you look at where it is coming from and where it is today. To date, the Court has opened investigations into seven situations: DRCongo, Uganda, Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya, Cote d'Ivoire, and Darfur in Sudan. Of these seven, three were referred to the Court by the States Parties (Uganda, DRCongo and Central African Republic), two were referred by the UN Security Council (Darfur and Libya), and two (Kenya and Cote d'Ivoire) were begun proprio motu by the former prosecutor [Luis Moreno-Ocampo].

Q: Critics say that it took the ICC 10 years to prosecute one person since coming into being. Will it take another 10 years to bring other indictees to justice?

It is important to know that the ICC was created in 2001. Regarding the case of DRCongo's Thomas Lubanga Dyilo which you probably referred to in your question, it was only in 2009 that the ICC opened the case against him, based on the request made to us. The case lasted for three years. Already, there are two cases in the pipeline.

The Court has publicly indicted 28 people, and proceedings against 22 of them are ongoing. The ICC has issued arrest warrants for 19 individuals and summonses to nine others. Five individuals are in custody, one of them has been found guilty (with an appeal possible) while four of them are being tried. Nine individuals remain at large as fugitives (although one is reported to have died).

Additionally, two individuals have been arrested by national authorities, but have not yet been transferred to the Court. Proceedings against six individuals have finished following the death of two of them and the dismissal of charges against the other four. In addition to this, the OTP is currently conducting preliminary examinations in a number of situations, including Afghanistan, Georgia, Guinea, Colombia, Honduras, Korea, and Nigeria.

We have become a crucial actor in the international arena. Obviously, yes, there are things to be learned. There is still a lot to be done - arrest warrants still pending, crimes continuing. There...

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