When she was elected as Luis Moreno Ocampo’s deputy in 2004, Fatou Bensouda had a strong message for world leaders.
She advised them to realise that with the setting up of the International Criminal Court, impunity was a thing of the past.
“It is gone!” declared the 50-year-old lawyer who is touted to replace Mr Moreno-Ocampo next June.
“Those who are trying to bring unspeakable atrocities, suffering to civilians anywhere in the world will be held accountable.”
She stressed that those in authority—whether in government or disciplined forces — have the responsibility to stop crimes.
“We have to realise that the law makes a difference between the soldier or terrorist or a policeman or criminal. There is a difference.”
Well, former Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo, the stubborn, fire-breathing and chest thumbing professor of history, is now crest-fallen at the ICC detention facilities where he has spent three nights.
Gbagbo joined former Congolese Vice-President Jean Pierre Pemba and suspected DRC warlord Thomas Lubanga.
The ICC has issued a warrant of arrest against Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam.
Add six Kenyan suspects — including two presidential hopefuls — who have faced the court, and you see the full power behind the ICC, particularly its chief prosecutor.
On Thursday, ICC member states agreed to nominate Ms Bensouda from The Gambia as chief prosecutor to replace Mr Moreno-Ocampo, who must stand down next year at the end of his nine-year term.
She emerged as the consensus candidate proposed for the key post in final meetings of the states ahead of the formal election to be held in New York, on December 12.
Liechtenstein’s UN ambassador Christian Wenaweser, who has been heading the selection process, said he would recommend Ms Bensouda.
“The announcement caps a lengthy and rigorous search process, and we understand the decision reflects consensus among ICC states parties,” said Param Preet Singh of Human Rights Watch’s who followed the selection.
A total of 52 candidates applied for the job, including Tanzania’s chief justice Mohamed Chande, who is said to have withdrawn his candidacy as it became increasingly clear that African nations favoured Ms Bensouda.
Others seeking the post were Mr Andrew Cayley, the British co-prosecutor in the Cambodian special court handling Khmer Rouge trials, and Canadian war crimes specialist Robert Petit.
If elected, the Kenyan suspects, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura, MPs William Ruto and Henry Kosgey, Postmaster-General Hussein Ali and radio presenter Joshua Sang, will face Ms Bensouda.
That is, of course, if their cases proceed to trial.
Unlike the media savvy Ocampo who has become a household name in Kenya with children, matatus and bars named after him, Mrs Bensouda pulls her strings behind the curtains.
Because of her background and experience in various tribunals as solicitor-general and deputy director of public prosecutions as well as Justice minister in The Gambia, Ms Bensouda is reputed to be an “expert on African justice systems”.
She is the lead prosecutor in the trial of DRC warlord Lubanga who faces charges related to war crimes.
And perhaps unlike Mr Moreno-Ocampo, Mrs Bensouda is familiar with the eastern African terrain, its cultures and politics. Before he appointment at the ICC, she was a trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania.
Besides, the former minister represented her country in negotiations that resulted in the Rome Statute which gave birth to the ICC.
“Africa can be proud to have such an outstanding person at the ICC, committed to bringing justice to victims of the most heinous crimes,” said Sheikh Tijan Hydare, the Gambian Attorney-General who describes Ms Bensouda as hard-working, dedicated and one of the best attorneys-general his country has produced”.
She has been keen to remind audiences that the ICC is a permanent and independent court. Mr Singh of Human Rights Watch says Bensouda will have to be “a legal superwoman.”
“You need someone who understands the demands of acting independently and with impartiality on an international stage to put forward the needs of justice and the victims when it may not always be convenient for the international community.”