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International Criminal Court swears in Gambian lawyer as chief prosecutor

File photo of Fatou Bensouda, from Gambia, who served as Luis Moreno-Ocampo's deputy.

Story highlights

  • She replaces Luis Moreno-Ocampo
  • Member nations that recognize the court's jurisdiction voted for her in December
  • Her appointment comes amid criticism that the court disburses justice selectively by focusing on Africa

The International Criminal Court swore in Gambian lawyer Fatou Bensouda as its chief prosecutor Friday, the first woman to assume the top job at the world war crimes tribunal.

She replaces Argentinian Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the inaugural prosecutor for the world court, whose nine-year term ends this month.

Bensouda served as Moreno-Ocampo's deputy at the court based in The Hague, Netherlands. Member nations that recognize the court's jurisdiction voted for her unanimously during a December meeting at the United Nations.

Her appointment comes amid fierce criticism against the court -- which has a heavy caseload of Africa investigations -- that it disburses justice selectively by focusing on the continent.

The court currently has investigations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Ivory Coast and Libya.

"Bensouda is taking over an established office with an already sizable caseload," Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "The office has opened investigations in seven countries and is conducting preliminary examinations to determine whether to open an investigation in at least seven other countries."

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Critics have said the court targets Africa and bypasses opportunities to investigate abuses in various nations, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Her election is a positive move by the International Criminal Court, " said Ayo Johnson, director of Viewpoint Africa. "The court needs an African in the role to justify why it is so heavily focused on African dictators . The court must be fair and should be seen as consistent in how it discharges justice, and not only focus on Africa.

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Bensouda has worked in various other positions, including as adviser to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is trying key figures in the 1994 genocide. She has also served as justice minister and attorney general in her native Gambia.

Supporters of the court applauded her appointment and said the court provides justice to victims of nations where the legal system is not efficient.

"In Syria and other strife-torn countries over the past 10 years, the ICC has come to symbolize the last, best hope for justice," said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. "We look to Bensouda's leadership to advance cases, build bridges with victims, and push countries to support its impartial application of the law to get the job done."

Bensouda, who will serve for nine years, was on this year's Time magazine list of 100 Most Influential People in the World.

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