New ICC prosecutor Bensouda no stranger to justice

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Gambia's Fatou Bensouda, named Monday as the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, is no stranger to the halls of international justice and her goal is to give victims the voice they need.

She has served as the ICC deputy prosecutor since 2004, standing in the shadow of the high-profile lawyer she now replaces, Argentinian Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

As a backdrop to her office as deputy prosecutor, the faces of Omar al-Bashir, Jean-Pierre Bemba and the late Moamer Kadhafi stared down at her from a large poster displaying all 25 suspects wanted, or tried, by The Hague-based ICC for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

All are African, like Bensouda,

"I am working for the victims of Africa, they are African like me. That's where I get my inspiration and my pride," the 50-year-old Bensouda told AFP in a previous interview.

Before leading the ICC's prosecution division for seven years, the former Gambian justice minister worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, from 2002 to 2004, first as a trial attorney and later as its senior legal advisor.

The daughter of a civil servant and a housewife, she grew up in Banjul, the capital of Gambia, the tiny English-speaking west African country of 1.75 million people wedged between Senegal territory.

The question whether she has any brothers or sisters elicited the response "I come from a big family, let's say it that way,". Her father was polygamous.

The mother of two sons who have completed their studies in architecture and finance, one living in Banjul and the other in the United States, Bensouda also adopted a sister's daughter, Saddy, 27.

Bensouda's meteoric rise was sparked after she graduated from the Nigerian Law School in Lagos and stepped into Gambia's courts in 1987 as a public prosecutor.

Just over a decade later, in 1998, she was appointed justice minister and attorney-general.

Bensouda then left the Gambian justice ministry to run the International Bank for Commerce as its general manager in Banjul for two years.

She entered the international justice arena in May 2002 as a trial attorney for the ICTR's prosecutor's office, taking to task those responsible for the Rwandan genocide in which the UN said some 800,000 people were slaughtered in 1994, the majority of them Tutsis.

In April 2004, she was named senior legal advisor to the ICTR.

Four months later, on August 8, 2004, she was elected as the ICC's deputy prosecutor and so became chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's right-hand person.

Now based in The Hague, she has led the prosecution team at the court's first ever trial against former Democratic Republic of Congo militia leader Thomas Lubanga, which opened in January 2009.

She frequently still visits Africa to meet heads of state of countries under ICC investigation or those subject to possible scrutiny.

Asked if she liked her previous job as deputy she replied: "I love what I am doing. In this position I am able to give victims the voice they need."

© 2011 AFP

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