Fatou Bensouda

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Fatou Bensouda
Deputy Prosecutor (cropped).jpg
Fatou Bensouda official Portrait, 2008
Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court
Assumed office
15 June 2012
PresidentSong Sang-Hyun
Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi
Chile Eboe-Osuji
DeputyJames Stewart
Preceded byLuis Moreno Ocampo
Succeeded byKarim Khan
Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court
In office
8 September 2004 – 15 June 2012
PresidentPhilippe Kirsch
Sang-hyun Song
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byJames Stewart
Minister of Justice of The Gambia
Attorney General
In office
PresidentYahya Jammeh
Preceded byHawa Sisay-Sabally
Succeeded byPap Cheyassin Secka
Personal details
Fatou Bom Nyang

(1961-01-31) 31 January 1961 (age 60)
Bathurst (now Banjul), British Gambia (now The Gambia)
Spouse(s)Philip Bensouda
Alma materUniversity of Ife
Nigerian Law School
International Maritime Law Institute
OccupationInternational Criminal Law Prosecutor

Fatou Bom Bensouda (/fɑːˈt bɛnˈsdə/; née Nyang; born 31 January 1961) is a Gambian lawyer and international criminal law prosecutor.

She has been the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor since June 2012, after having served as a Deputy Prosecutor in charge of the Prosecutions Division of the ICC since 2004. Before that she was Minister of Justice and Attorney General of The Gambia from 1998 to 2000.[1] She has held positions of Legal Adviser and Trial Attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).[2]

On 2 September 2020, Bensouda was named a "specially designated national" by the United States government under the Trump administration, forbidding all U.S. persons and companies from doing business with her.[3] The Biden administration reversed course on 2 April 2021 when President Joe Biden revoked EO 13928, removing Bensouda from the SDN list;[4] US Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement calling the previous sanctions "inappropriate and ineffective".[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Born on 31 January 1961 in Banjul (then Bathurst), The Gambia, Bensouda is the daughter of Omar Gaye Nyang, who was a government driver and the country's most prominent wrestling promoter.

She attended primary and secondary school in the Gambia before leaving in 1982 for Nigeria, where she graduated from the University of Ife with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) degree in 1986. The following year, she obtained her Barrister-at-Law (BL) professional qualification from the Nigeria Law School. She later became the Gambia's first expert in international maritime law after earning a master of laws from the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta.[6]


Roles under Presidents Dawda Jawara and Yahya Jammeh[edit]

Fatou Bensouda was appointed as state counsel in 1987 and deputy director of public prosecutions in February 1994 for Sir Dawda Jawara's government.[6]

She played a central role in the early years of Gambian president Yahya Jammeh's regime, being chosen as his solicitor general and legal adviser in 1996, after he took power in the bloodless 1994 coup d'état,[6] before becoming his Minister of Justice and Attorney General in August 1998 and being dismissed in March 2000.[7] Bensouda was praised by rights groups for her speedy prosecution of offences against women and children.[6]

Yahya Jammeh's regime is accused by human rights groups of various abuses.[8] He is notably accused of harassing the opposition and the press, after the coup in 1994.[9]

International criminal prosecutor and legal adviser[edit]

Bensouda's international career as a non-government civil servant formally began at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where she worked as a Legal Adviser and Trial Attorney before rising to the position of Senior Legal Advisor and Head of the Legal Advisory Unit (May 2002 to August 2004). On 8 August 2004, she was elected as Deputy Prosecutor (Prosecutions) with an overwhelming majority of votes by the Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court. On 1 November 2004, Bensouda was sworn into Office as Deputy Prosecutor (Prosecutions).[10]

On 1 December 2011, the Assembly of States Parties of the ICC announced that an informal agreement had been reached to make Bensouda the consensus choice to succeed Luis Moreno-Ocampo as Prosecutor of the ICC.[11] She was formally elected by consensus on 12 December 2011.[2] Her term as prosecutor began on 15 June 2012.[11]

According to an Associated Press report on 6 November 2015, Bensouda was advised that war crimes may have been committed on the Mavi Marmara ship in 2010, where eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed and several other activists were wounded by Israeli commandos, but she ruled the case was not serious enough to merit an International Criminal Court probe.[12]

In November 2017, Bensouda advised the court to consider seeking charges for human rights abuses committed during the War in Afghanistan such as alleged rapes and tortures by the United States Armed Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency, crime against humanity committed by the Taliban, and war crimes committed by the Afghan National Security Forces.[13] John Bolton, National Security Advisor of the United States, stated that ICC Court had no jurisdiction over the US, which did not ratify the Rome Statute.

Other activities[edit]

Professional associations and boards[edit]

Bensouda is a member of the International Gender Champions (IGC).[14] She was previously a member of International Advisory Council, International Board of Maritime Healthcare.[1] She is a member of both The Gambia Bar Association and the Nigeria Bar Association. She is also a member of the International Association of Prosecutors.[1]

Bensouda also served on the Governing Council of the Gambia Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP) which is a leading women’s rights organization fighting against harmful traditional practices and Member of The Advisory Board of The African Centre For Democracy and Human Rights Studies from 1998 to 2000.[15][16][17] Bensouda is a former 1st Vice President of The Gambia National Olympics Committee (GNOC).[2] From 1992-1995, she served as a board member of Gambia High School Board of Governors and a member of the Executive Committee of the Marina International School, The Gambia from 1994.[3][4]


Bensouda in her role as the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor has given delivered several lectures on the ICC and its challenges and successes on several platforms most notable amongst them is ''The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court: Successes, Challenges and the Promise of International Criminal Justice'' which is in the Lecture Series of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law.[18][19][5]

Awards and honours[edit]

Fatou-Bensouda speaking at Oslo Forum 2014

Bensouda has been the recipient of various awards, most notably, the distinguished ICJ International Jurists Award in 2009, which was presented by the then President of India Pratibha Patil. Bensouda was presented the award for her contributions to criminal law both at the national and international level.[20]

Bensouda has also been awarded the 2011 World Peace Through Law Award presented by the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute, Washington University, which recognized her work in considerably advancing the rule of law and thereby contributing to world peace.[21]

In 2012, Time magazine listed Bensouda among the 100 most influential people in the world in its annual Time 100 issue, noting her role as a "leading voice pressing governments to support the quest for justice".[22]

The African magazine Jeune Afrique named Bensouda as the 4th most influential person in Africa in the Civil Society category [23] and one of the 100 most Influential African Personalities.[24]

In December 2014, the Togolese magazine Africa Top Success named her "African of the Year", ahead of Isabel dos Santos, Angélique Kidjo, Lupita Nyong'o, Daphne Mashile-Nkosi and Koki Mutungi.[25]

In 2015, she was listed as one of BBC's 100 Women.[26]


In October 2017, Bensouda and two members of her staff were accused by Der Spiegel of staying in touch with her predecessor, questioning the Prosecutor's own integrity when Bensouda sent confidential information to Ocampo. It was also suggested that Bensouda sought the advice of her predecessor on several occasions and perhaps allowed herself to be influenced by him, specifically in Kenya and Yazidi cases.[27]

The US State Department revoked Bensouda's visa in early April 2019.[28][29] The Guardian reported that the visa withdrawal seemed to be the fulfillment of a threat from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to prevent ICC personnel from investigating whether US servicemen or US officials engaged in war crimes in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania and Lithuania.[30][31][32] The visa revocation triggered criticism from United Nations officials.[33]

In June 2020, US President Donald Trump issued an executive order which allowed the United States to block assets of ICC employees and prevent them and immediate family from entering the country. In September 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Bensouda and another senior ICC official, Phakiso Mochochoko, would be sanctioned under this order and those who "materially support those individuals risk exposure to sanctions as well". Balkees Jarrah, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, tweeted that the move was a "stunning perversion of US sanctions, devised to penalize rights abusers and kleptocrats, to target those prosecuting war crimes".[34]

On April 4, 2021, it was reported that the United States Government officially lifted the sanctions against Bensouda and Mochochoko and visa restrictions against other ICC personnel.[35]

Personal life[edit]

Bensouda is married to Gambian-Moroccan businessman Philip Bensouda.[36] They have three children.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Gambia's Fatou Bensouda sworn in as ICC prosecutor". BBC News. 15 June 2012.
  2. ^ a b Farouk Chothia, "Africa's Fatou Bensouda is new ICC chief prosecutor", BBC News, 12 December 2011.
  3. ^ "Blocking Property of Certain Persons Associated with the International Criminal Court Designations | U.S. Department of the Treasury". home.treasury.gov. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  4. ^ Verma, Pranshu; Simons, Marlise (2 April 2021). "Reversing Trump, Biden Repeals Sanctions on Human Rights Prosecutor". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
  5. ^ Blinken, Antony J. (2 April 2021). "Ending Sanctions and Visa Restrictions against Personnel of the International Criminal Court". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d Perfect, David (2016). Historical Dictionary of The Gambia. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 59–60. ISBN 978-1-4422-6526-4.
  7. ^ "Africa's Fatou Bensouda is new ICC chief prosecutor - BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  8. ^ "Gambia pulls out of 'racist' ICC amid fears of a mass African exodus". The Independent. 26 October 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  9. ^ "Africa's Fatou Bensouda is new ICC chief prosecutor". 12 December 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2020 – via www.bbc.com.
  10. ^ Akyeampong, Emmanuel Kwaku; Gates, Henry Louis (2012). Dictionary of African Biography. OUP USA. pp. 436–. ISBN 978-0-19-538207-5.
  11. ^ a b "Fatou Bensouda in Line to Become Next International Criminal Court Prosecutor", Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Media Advisory, 1 December 2011.
  12. ^ "ICC Repeats Prosecutor Has to Reconsider Gaza Flotilla Probe". AP. 6 November 2015. Retrieved 10 February 2017 – via The New York Times.
  13. ^ Corder, Mike (20 November 2017). "ICC prosecutor requests investigation into U.S. military, CIA for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan". The Toronto Star. Associated Press. ISSN 0319-0781. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  14. ^ Members International Gender Champions (IGC).
  15. ^ "Pioneer African Women in Law". African Women in Law. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  16. ^ Akyeampong, Emmanuel Kwaku; Gates, Henry Louis (2 February 2012). Dictionary of African Biography. OUP USA. ISBN 978-0-19-538207-5.
  17. ^ "Bensouda, Fatou Bomm". International Year Book and Statesmen's Who's Who.
  18. ^ "Lecture Series - Dr. Fatou Bensouda". legal.un.org. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  19. ^ "United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law". legal.un.org. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  20. ^ "Gambia's Fatou Bensouda Receives Int Jurists Award". The Point. 23 November 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  21. ^ "World Peace Through Law Award". Washington University Law. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  22. ^ Roth, Kenneth (18 April 2012). "The World's 100 Most Influential People: 2012: Fatou Bensouda". Time Magazine. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  23. ^ Jeune Afrique, No. 2450-2451, 26 December 2010 – 8 January 2011.
  24. ^ Jeune Afrique, No. 2607-2608, 23 December 2007 – 5 January 2008.
  25. ^ Africa Top Success Awards: Votez pour l'Africaine de l’année 2014, africatopsuccess.com; accessed 26 April 2018.
  26. ^ "BBC 100 Women 2015: Who is on the list?". BBC News. 17 November 2015. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  27. ^ Becker, Sven (17 October 2017). "The Ocampo Affair: Current ICC Chief Prosecutor Weighed Down by Predecessor". Spiegel Online. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  28. ^ Matthew Kahn (5 April 2019). "Today's Headlines and Commentary". Lawfare. Archived from the original on 6 April 2019. Retrieved 6 April 2019. The State Department revoked the visa of Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, over her attempts to investigate U.S. conduct in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004, reports the New York Times.
  29. ^ Marlise Simons, Megan Specia (5 April 2019). "U.S. Revokes Visa of I.C.C. Prosecutor Pursuing Afghan War Crimes". New York Times. Paris. p. A4. Retrieved 6 April 2019. The visa revocation — confirmed on Friday by the office of the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, and the State Department in Washington — was assailed by rights advocates as unprecedented interference by the United States into the workings of the court, established nearly two decades ago to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
  30. ^ Patrick Wintour, Owen Bowcott, Julian Borger (5 April 2019). "US revokes ICC prosecutor's visa over Afghanistan inquiry". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 April 2019. The US state department does not provide details of individual visa cases but made clear it was implementing the threat last month from the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to impose restrictions on any ICC staff who investigated US or allied personnel. The move marked a hardening of America’s policy of non-cooperation with the ICC, and a downgrading of the role of multilateralism.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  31. ^ "Focus: Alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Afghanistan since 1 May 2003". International Criminal Court. 9 April 2019. Archived from the original on 9 April 2019. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  32. ^ Owen Bowcott (5 March 2020). "Senior ICC judges authorise Afghanistan war crimes inquiry". www.theguardian.com. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
  33. ^ "U.S. revokes ICC prosecutor's entry visa over Afghanistan investigation". Reuters. The Hague. 4 April 2019. Retrieved 6 April 2019. United Nations human rights experts called the reaction “improper interference” in the work of the world’s permanent war crimes court. It also drew criticism from within the European Union.
  34. ^ "International Criminal Court officials sanctioned by US" BBC News. September 2, 2020.
  35. ^ "US Government ending sanctions against ICC" Diplomat Magazine. April 4, 2021.
  36. ^ Mike Gitau. "The Essence of Fatou Bensouda". Nairobi Sun. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  37. ^ Farouk Chothia (12 December 2011). "Africa's Fatou Bensouda is new ICC chief prosecutor". BBC. Retrieved 8 December 2014.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Hawa Sisay-Sabally
Attorney General and Minister of Justice of The Gambia
Succeeded by
Pap Cheyassin Secka
Preceded by
Luis Moreno Ocampo
Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court
Succeeded by
Karim Khan