Skip to content


News Posted on March 15, 2010

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda Speaks at CILC Event

Fatou BensoudaInternational Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda delivered an address on "Gender Violence and International Criminal Law" on March 8, International Women's Day, to a packed Wilkins Moot Courtroom audience of King Hall faculty, students, staff, and friends.  The event included introductory remarks from Dean Kevin R. Johnson and Solano County Superior Court Judge Ramona Garrett '80, as well as questions from a panel including Professor Diane Marie Amann, Director of the California International Law Center at King Hall (CILC) and Professor David Caron of UC Berkeley School of Law, incoming President of the American Society of International Law.

Judge Garrett introduced Bensouda with an overview of her career, which began in her native The Gambia and has included positions as Solicitor General, Attorney General, and Minister of Justice in that country before she became a legal advisor and trial lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 2000.  In 2004, she was elected to the position of Deputy Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC).  In her lecture, Bensouda addressed the growing recognition of gender violence as a crime against humanity and her work as an ICC prosecutor in several prominent cases.

Gender violence has only recently been recognized as a war crime and crime against humanity, Bensouda said, pointing out that prosecutors at the Nuremberg Trials during the 1940s declined to present sexual crimes against the defendants, and that only in the 1990s, as the international community sought to attain accountability for the atrocities committed during the conflict in Yugoslavia, did international law begin to recognize the ways in which rape and sexual violence could used as instruments of war and genocide.  In 1998, when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the United Nations' body convened to investigate mass killings in Rwanda, found former Rwanda mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu guilty of crimes against humanity for his direct and public incitement of atrocities and sentenced him to life in prison, it marked a milestone, Bensouda said.

"For the first time in history, rape was explicitly recognized as an instrument of genocide," she said.

More recently, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a former rebel leader from the Republic of the Congo, became the first person arrested under a warrant issued by the ICC for crimes including the conscription of child soldiers, who he subjected to sexual violations.  Girls have been used not only as soldiers but also as forced wives and sexual slaves, Bensouda said, and these victims have often been rejected by their communities and at the margins of demobilization efforts aimed at returning the children to normal life. 

"During the course of this trial, we have made it our mission to ensure that Mr. Lubanga be held criminally responsible for the atrocities that were committed against those little girl soldiers when he enlisted and conscripted them to be used as sexual prey while also using them in combat," said Bensouda.  "In the International Criminal Court, we are determined to make sure that girls will not be invisible.  We hope the Lubanga ruling, when it comes, will change the lives of these girls and never again should they be left out of the assistance provided by the demobilization programs."

Bensouda described other cases, including the prosecution of Congolese warlords Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui, and Jean Pierre Bemba, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, for crimes against humanity including sexual slavery and rape, as well the arrest warrant issued for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan.

"In the application of the arrest warrant against Sudanese President al-Bashir, we submitted that the crimes of rape and sexual violence committed in Darfur are an integral part of his attempt to destroy the Fur, the Masalit, and Zaghawa groups," she said.  "One of the victims that we have interviewed explained, ‘They kill our males and they dilute our blood with rape.  They want to finish us as a people and to end our history.'"

Al-Bashir has so far avoided arrest, but Bensouda suggested that "he will be joining us at the ICC sooner or later."

Bensouda said the prosecution of such crimes "begins a new era" wherein those in power in a given state can no longer commit gender crimes with impunity.  With the adoption of the Rome Statute by the United Nations General Assembly in 1998 and the creation of the ICC, the "tacit agreement" to ignore such crimes "is off," she said.

"In order to stop these crimes, we will give victims a voice, and this voice will be their own voice," said Bensouda.

Bensouda's lecture was sponsored by CILC with The Planethood Foundation, UC Davis Women's Resource and Research Center, the International Law Society, the Journal of International Law and Policy, the Criminal Law Association, and the Humanitarian Aid Legal Organization.