She’s One Of The World’s Top Criminal Prosecutors & Is A Role Model For African Women & Girls


Fatou Bensouda is a lawyer who holds one of the foremost legal jobs in the world. Since 2011 she has been the Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, becoming the first African and first woman to hold this position. The ICC was established in 1998 after 120 States adopted the Rome Statute, the legal basis for establishing the permanent International Criminal Court.

It was created to help end impunity for some of the world’s worst war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. After the success of Nuremberg and Tokyo trials which sought to prosecute perpetrators based on the aforementioned issues, various versions of the ICC were seen before it formally being set up. In the 1990s, tribunals like the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.

Fatou was appointed as Legal Adviser and Trial Attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (a country which now boasts the highest percentage of women government globally) to try those deemed most responsible for the 1994 genocide, which began her foray into this international criminal legal circuit. She has been hailed as a role models for girls in Africa, showing what is possibly given the right opportunities in life, starting with quality education.

Fatou was born and raised in the Gambia, a country which recently made a huge step forward for women’s rights by outlawing female genital mutilation, before studying law in Nigeria and Malta, going on to become her home country’s first expert in international maritime law.

After her time with the International Criminal Tribunal, she was appointed head of their legal advisory unit, which then led to a role as the Deputy Prosecutor of the newly formed ICC.


The ICC’s role is to step in and take up cases of war crimes where an individual country’s legal system fails. Since is inception, the ICC has tried a number of African warlords, which has drawn criticism from members of the African Union which claim there is too much focus on the continent and not on other crimes elsewhere in the world. It is a fair statement but not altogether right.

Dr. Jonathan Levy, a member of the ICC bar and a member of the Political Science faculty at Norwich University and Southern New Hampshire University has criticized both Fatou and the ICC for not doing more to go after members of ISIS, who he likened to the Nazi’s during WWII. He believes that Fatou’s personal Islamic beliefs blind her from taking considerable action against what is considered the greatest threat to humanity today.

It is a fair argument to make, especially in light of the global terror threat we face today, but the ICC cannot be ignored or written off just yet. Their most recent and highlighted case is bringing the country of Georgia to trial for the military conflict in 2008 which saw Russian and Georgian forces battle over certain states within the country under Russian control.

Along with her legislative accomplishments, Fatou wants to be a role model for other African girls and be an advocate for women’s rights. She has said, in the video interview with PBS below, that the issues women and girls face around the world has been one of her motivations for going into the area of law in the first place.

And while there are critics who list her Muslim beliefs as well as the ICC’s majority of focus cases being in Africa, Fatou has a reputation that is strong and determined.


“From what I know about her, she’ll do what she believes is right – no matter how many feathers get ruffled. So if states think they are getting a shrinking violet, they’re bound for serious disappointment,” said Kevin Jon Heller, senior lecturer at the Melbourne Law School in Australia after she was promoted to Chief Prosecutor in 2011.

Her rise to such a prominent position wasn’t necessarily predictable. She was born in 1961 to a polygamous Muslim family, and raised by her father’s two wives. She had more than a dozen siblings. It was in this family setting that she said she developed her sense of justice. Her father, who died from diabetes when she was young, provided equally for both sides of his family and instilled a sense of fairness in his children.

“We did not have this unfortunate rivalry that sometimes happens in polygamous families, and we were all very good to one another,” she said.

Her ascendancy to a powerful legal position in a global scale is symbolically important for African women and girls. Politics and opinions aside for one minute, to acknowledge her achievements and crucial legislative decision-making is going to have an impact on future African female lawyers is not something to be glossed over, and it makes her a formidable role model in a world where many women are still struggling for the right to access higher education and fight against antiquated cultural views which see them as invaluable in a public setting.

But in terms of her position in the ICC ruffling feathers and causing some to express their disdain for a Muslim lawyer who hasn’t yet “taken down” ISIS as effectively as some would like, the international community would do well to know that justice and retribution isn’t just a one-step or one-size-fits-all solution.

“I feel positive about Fatou’s tenure as chief prosecutor. Will she wave a magic wand and cure all the difficulties that exist at the ICC at the moment? No. Can she bring positive disposition over time to transforming the polluted atmosphere in which the institution has been operating in Africa? Absolutely,” said Chidi Odinkalu, chairman of the Nigeria national human rights commission.

Her passion is to give victims a platform where they have been denied it before, and that’s something we need to see more of in judicial systems globally. It is one of the reasons the cases she presides over have a personal effect on her.

“You cannot completely separate yourself from what you are doing because these aren’t statistics. Sometimes you talk about 1,000 people died, 100 people died. And people just think about the numbers. But these are lives of people. These are lives of mothers of sisters or friends. We should be able to do something to give them a voice,” she said.

We need to see more women like Fatou Bensouda highlighted as successful, powerful and influential role models for girls in the world today. Women like Fatou have been given a voice to advocate for people who have been marginalized, targeted and oppressed, like many women and girls in the world today.

Watch Fatou tell PBS why she decided to work for the ICC and talk about the criticism the court is only going after African countries like a repeat of colonialism:




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