NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 21 – She’s a simple, focused, intelligent woman. She maintains steady composure that it’s difficult to gauge her mood. International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is also one patient person. This was evident during her visit in Kenya when she met victims of the 2008 post election violence in Nakuru and Eldoret.
Though most of them despise the ICC process and allege that it has the wrong accused persons and fake witnesses, Bensouda did not stop anyone from talking. The mother of two patiently and attentively listened to all, and in fact responded to them by name.
Capital FM News had an opportunity to interview Bensouda after she concluded her five day visit to Kenya.
CFM: What challenges did you have to deal with upon your appointment, especially being an African woman?
FB: I am often asked this question! Perhaps I could say this; I am acutely aware of the symbolic importance of my appointment.
However, I have always tried to make it clear that being from a small country, being a woman – although I am proud of these facts – has no bearing on my work as a prosecutor; I have a role to fulfill. It is not because I am African, (or) a woman that my actions as Prosecutor at the ICC will somehow be guided differently. Justice is not a pick-and-choose system. I will go where massive crimes are being committed and justice is not being done. That is my duty. And that is the law.
CFM: What is your opinion on the progress African women are making to get to high positions in their societies and even internationally?
FB: I look to my role to demonstrate to young women around the world, and in particular in Africa, that there is no glass ceiling. The sky is the limit. Strong, competent, powerful women are leading countries, international organisations and global civil society movements. We have a role to play; I am confident that in the near future, many more will join our ranks.
Like so many, I do not have to look very far to see powerful and compassionate role models. Some of the pioneering African women whom I have admired and who I continue to see as role models include the late Wangari Maathai, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Graça Machel, Navi Pillay. I believe they are also an inspiration for a whole new generation of young women, in Africa and around the world.
CFM: What makes you happy in your job?
FB: Frankly, it is difficult to feel anything other than profound compassion and concern, when so many victims have suffered and still suffer. As a prosecutor, my goal is to ensure we have strong cases and to win them in court. It’s crucial to do so. But I believe real success lies in the shadow of the court, in preventing future crimes. Our role is to show what happened to the victims and to stop it happening again. That’s why it’s so important!
CFM: What frustrates you?
FB: We have fugitives from justice, people wanted for massive crimes – Sudanese President Omar al Bashir for genocide, Joseph Kony for brutal killings, abductions and sexual violence, Bosco Ntaganda for using children to fight adult wars. To stop their crimes, they must be arrested. Sooner or later, they will all have to face justice. But if we were to calculate the cost of impunity in terms of the continued suffering inflicted on their victims, it would be unimaginable.
CFM: What legacy do you want to leave at the ICC?
FB: I will continue the work that has been started, and consolidate it. I will collect evidence and apply the law. I see the ICC as a new global institution which can ultimately ensure a single standard is applied in international criminal justice. For hundreds of years, conflicts have been fought and resolved through negotiation without legal constraints.
The decision to create the ICC has changed that. No more impunity for perpetrators of mass crimes. In the Rome Statute community, leaders who are using massive violence to gain or even to retain power will be held accountable. Today 2.4 billion people in 121 States around the world are under the protection of the Rome system of international justice. And states continue to ratify.
The world will adhere to one standard for justice when all the countries of the world have joined the ICC. And I believe that ultimately this will happen. Remember, I am only the second prosecutor of this court. I will be here for nine years. But the ICC is permanent. I believe the greatest impact of the court’s work will be as a deterrent – saving untold suffering by preventing future crimes.
CFM: How do you intend to address challenges facing the ICC- such as non-cooperation by member states?
FB: Cooperation is the bedrock of the Rome system. It is also intrinsically linked to the effectiveness and success of the court and Rome Statute system. The court’s role and relevance in the management of violence through effective exercise of its mandate to investigate, prosecute and prevent massive crimes can only be ensured through strong, consistent and timely cooperation with, and support for, the court. All actors – states, international and regional organizations, peacekeeping missions, civil society – have an important role to play in this regard.
During my mission to Kenya I conveyed my office’s concerns about delays in the government’s response to a number of OTP requests related to our investigations. In my meeting with the principals, I pointed out that the final list of evidence is due on January 9, 2013, and that submitting this evidence is essential for giving the defence a fair trial. I expressed my strong desire to receive all the requested information by the end of November 2012, to enable me to comply with my obligations as the prosecutor. I remain confident that they will take appropriate steps to ensure that I am provided with the information without delays.
CFM: I have noticed you are very passionate especially when it comes to defending women’s rights and victims, while in Kenya you hardly rested; you were in meeting after meeting, what is the driving force?
FB: Our daily motivation, indeed the reason for our very existence, is victims. Victims of ICC crimes include the most vulnerable people in society: women and children. They should not be made to serve as sex slaves and soldiers. Nor should they be subjected to rape and sexual violence, or made to witness brutal sexual attacks. In accordance with the Rome Statute, I shall continue to include gender crimes and crimes against children in our charges and to bring the full force of the law to bear on those most responsible for them. As ICC Prosecutor, I will play my part in seeking justice on behalf of all victims of massive crimes. Justice can give them a voice, let their stories be heard. We hope thus, to restore dignity to their shattered lives. Justice cannot change history, but it can change the future. By ending impunity for these crimes, we can prevent them happening again.
CFM: During your visit in Kenya you interacted with the victims, heard their experiences and how they are coping with life after the violence that completely changed their lives, what advice would you give to the Kenyan authorities in regard to giving victims of PEV justice?
FB: It is always a humbling experience to meet and interact with victims. I have been touched and inspired by their stories and I have listened to their concerns. I heard the experiences of PEV victims in Nakuru and Eldoret – and I saw how devastating the post election violence has been, for them, their families and their communities.
Seeing justice is done for the victims is my office’s mandate and a major personal priority for me. As I explained, the ICC’s role is to try those most responsible for the most serious crimes, according to the evidence gathered by my office and in strict accordance with the law. This is what we are doing. It is up to the Kenyan judicial system to investigate and prosecute the other perpetrators.
CFM: What are your hobbies?
FB: For the next nine years, I have committed to devoting my time to the pursuit of justice on behalf of victims of ICC crimes worldwide and preventing future crimes. Any spare time I have, I will spend with my family!
CFM: What’s your favorite food?
FB: That’s a good question. This job requires me to travel a great deal, around the world, to seek cooperation, to report on our activities, to meet with affected communities and to explain to all segments of the public what we are doing and why. Just before my last visit to Kenya, I was in Japan. From Kenya, I traveled to Thailand. So as you can imagine, I am familiar with many national dishes. But my favourite dish remains the one we enjoy so much in my home country of the Gambia : Benachin. The word Bena means one and Chin means dish in Wollof, signifying that it’s a one pot dish.
CFM: What’s your favorite colour?
FB: One word, Blue.
CFM: What have been the worst moments of your life?
FB: You’d have to be made of stone to be left unmoved by the atrocious brutality of crimes you deal with as a lawyer. In court I have been faced with tales and images of pain. Sometimes the details are unbearable.
I remember in particular the story of a woman I met when I was part of an investigative team in Rwanda. She had been held captive during the whole period of the genocide, over three months, and had been raped and brutalised repeatedly by many men during that time. When we met her, it was the first time she was telling her story. Her story still haunts me. Stories such as hers can affect you profoundly, yet this is what we can transform into evidence, to show the truth of what happened. This is why the ICC was created. History will – must – show its creation to have been a turning point in the way the world manages violence.
CFM: What have been the happiest moments of life?
FB: In the field of international criminal justice I think it is more accurate to speak in terms of satisfaction. There are areas of critical importance for me personally. In the first trial of the ICC, Thomas Lubanga has been found guilty of committing crimes against children; by using them as soldiers to commit crimes and as sex slaves. Sexual violence is one of the main crimes committed against girls and their illegal recruitment is often intended for that purpose even though they also often participate in direct combat.
Of course, no isolated court judgment can remedy the grave consequences of sexual violence. However, our cases and trials send a clear message to the perpetrators that gender crimes will not be tolerated or ignored any longer, and this is good. The Lubanga verdict must spur the international community to bring all suspected perpetrators to account.