By Lillian Aluanga-Delvaux
International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda takes up her new role at the world’s first permanent international crimes court with a full tray.
The Gambian-born Bensouda, 51, is the first woman, and African, to hold the position and now takes charge of Kenya’s cases whose trial date is yet to be set.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, former Civil Service head Francis Muthaura, Eldoret North MP William Ruto and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang are to stand trial in The Hague for alleged crimes against humanity during post-election violence.
Listed among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people this year, Bensouda steps into her new shoes at a time the ICC is under heavy criticism from some African leaders.
The African Union has accused the court of practicing double standards by ‘only targeting the continent’ in its prosecution of war crimes. While on a visit to Washington for a meeting between the US and AU last year, chairman Jean Ping complained ICC’s formal cases have so far involved “exclusively Africans, as if nothing was going on in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Georgia”.
This argument has been discounted on the basis that African countries are signatories to the Rome Statute, which establishes the Court, and have sought ICC intervention. But just what does Bensouda’s entry mean for Kenya’s cases and the ICC’s ongoing assignments?
“Bensouda comes on a ‘clean slate’ since it was her predecessor, Moreno-Ocampo, who instituted investigation into Kenya’s cases,” says International Commission of Jurists Kenya Chapter Executive Director George Kegoro.
While one may argue that a change-of-guard often comes with the potential for re-evaluation of matters, law experts say it should not be construed to mean there might be changes in the handling of Kenya’s cases.
“Kenya’s cases have moved in a particular fashion up to this point and there are presently no obvious options for innovations into the case,” says Kegoro.
African Centre for International Legal and Policy Research director Godfrey Musila agrees.
“A re-evaluation is highly unlikely since Bensouda has been at the centre of Kenya’s cases. She has, at a technical level, been running the show and a re-evaluation may mean revisiting her earlier decisions,” says Dr Musila.
Musila says likely changes to the cases at this stage would relate to additional charges, but chances of this happening are slim.