Tuesday, May 29, 2012

AU v ICC: ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda Fires First Salvo

In a previous post written soon after Ms Fatou Bensouda's election as the ICC's new prosecutor, I noted that she assumes office with a heavy burden on her shoulders. I suggested that this burden consists of balancing a number of often competing objectives: cultivating waning support for the ICC in Africa by presenting the Office of the Prosecutor in a less abrasive way; remaining focused on her job while navigating a mined geopolitical terrain and; pushing forward current situations and cases while reorienting the direction ICC in order to truly internationalize its operations.

I argued that while her election was rightly celebrated in Africa, those who expect her to be soft on Africa or to make drastic changes would be disappointed. I noted that while it is accurate that she got the job partly because there was a need to keep AU members in the fold, she confronts challenges of a structural nature that she will not be able to change. Equally, I suggested that she could be compelled to act tough on Africa precisely because she would like to avoid criticism that she was going easy on Africa (because she is African). In this regarded, I noted that:

There is no doubt the AU will watch her every move, and I will not be surprised if some demands are made on her in the Al Bashir matter. She may have no choice but to rebuff these overtures. Her burden clearly is do her job in a way that does not open her to criticism globally for being ‘soft’ on Africa, merely because she is African. My suspicion is that it is precisely for this reason that she could be firmer than Ocampo, although in a more diplomatic and accommodating way.

My words are turning out to be prescient. In a recent speech that has been analyzed in an interesting post by Alana Tiemessen on Justiceinconcflict Blog, Ms Bensouda has fired the first salvo. Her comments suggest - as I speculated in my earlier post - that it would not only be business as usual (a la Ocampo), but she would actually be tougher on African states than her predecessor. Interesting times ahead. The ceasefire could have been breached. The honeymoon is over.

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