Gambian lawyer Fatou Bensouda, who reached the pinnacle of international justice when she became chief prosecutor at the world’s war crimes court, has a reputation as a dogged investigator.
The 51-year-old one-time lawer in mainland Africa’s smallest nation, Bensouda is now the public face of the International Criminal Court (ICC), The Hague-based tribunal that was established a decade ago with a brief to bring those accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice.
The first woman and the first African to head the team of prosecutors after serving as predecessor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s number two since 2004, Bensouda has vowed to work for justice for Africans.
“I am working for the victims of Africa, they are African like me. That’s where I get my inspiration and my pride“
– Fatou Bensouda, ICC chief prosecutor
She has already carved out a reputation in legal circles for her investigations of atrocities such as the Rwandan genocide and the use of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The court has been the target of widespread criticism from within Africa as every one of the 25 suspects who have been the target of investigations or prosecutions to date have hailed from there.
But, Bensouda says she sees her task as an opportunity “to give victims the voice they need”.
“I am working for the victims of Africa, they are African like me. That’s where I get my inspiration and my pride,” she said.
Bensouda has spent the last eight years as the number two to Argentina’s Moreno-Ocampo, most of that time heading the ICC’s prosecution division.
She first came to prominence in international legal circles as a trial lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, and later as its senior legal advisor.
Since her election as the ICC’s deputy prosecutor in August 2004, she has been involved in some of the court’s most high profile cases.
Her curriculum vitae includes the ICC’s first successful prosecution in March when Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was found guilty of abducting children as young as 11 and forcing them to fight.
The daughter of a civil servant and a housewife, Bensouda grew up in Banjul, the capital of Gambia, a tiny English-speaking west African country which borders Senegal.
She graduated from the Nigerian Law School in Lagos, returning to Gambia to begin a career in 1987 as a public prosecutor.
In 1998, she was appointed Gambia’s justice minister and attorney-general before quitting to run the International Bank for Commerce, as its general manager, in Banjul for two years.
But, she said: “It was not my thing, I missed the court.”
Bensouda entered the international justice arena in May 2002, working for the ICTR prosecutor’s office and taking to task those responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which some 800,000 people were slaughtered.