African secures ICC prosecutor's post
New York - International Criminal Court countries on Wednesday agreed to nominate Fatou Bensouda of Gambia as chief prosecutor for the main war crimes tribunal, diplomats said.
Bensouda, 50, is deputy to the current chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who must stand down next year at the end of his nine year term. Moreno-Ocampo the first ICC prosecutor has become a high profile hunter of heads of state and militia leaders accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Bensouda emerged as the consensus candidate for the key post in final meetings of the ICC member nations 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 formally recommend Bensouda at an informal meeting of member nations on Thursday.
"The announcement caps a lengthy and rigorous search process and we understand the decision reflects consensus among ICC states parties," said Param Preet Singh, Human Rights Watch's senior international counsel who has closely followed the selection.
A field of 52 candidates was whittled down to Bensouda, a former justice minister in her native Gambia, and Mohamed Chande Othman, chief justice of Tanzania.
Othman withdrew his candidacy on Wednesday as it became clear that African nations increasingly favored Bensouda, a UN diplomat said.
Andrew Cayley, the British co-prosecutor in the Cambodian special court handling Khmer Rouge trials, and Robert Petit, the Canadian Justice Department's top specialist on war crimes had made up the final four.
Diplomatic and managerial skills
Last week, the almost 120 ICC members, formally called the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome statute that created the court, made it known they wanted an African candidate.
The overwhelming majority of the ICC investigations - from Ivory Coast to Sudan and Libya - have been in Africa. And African leaders have frequently accused the court of unfairly concentrating on the continent.
Moreno-Ocampo, who has issued arrest warrants for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir for genocide and has been negotiating with Libyan authorities after the detention of Muammar Gaddafi’s, Saif al-Islam, must stand down next June.
Bensouda has been the ICC deputy prosecutor since 2004. Before that she had been an adviser and trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania.
She had also been attorney general and justice minister in the Gambia and took part in negotiations on the treaty that set up the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).
Bensouda is considered more low-key than the frequently outspoken Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine who made his name prosecuting former senior members of the country's junta, for rights abuses.
The chief prosecutor requires supreme diplomatic and managerial skills as well as organising investigations.
"The ICC prosecutor is one of the most important jobs in this new century in ending impunity for the worst crimes under international law," said William Pace of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, which brings together hundreds of civil groups that support the court.
Bensouda will have to be "a legal superwoman," according to Singh of Human Rights Watch.
"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 needs of victims at times when it may not always be convenient for the international community," she told AFP.