Meet the First Lady of Justice: Fatou Bensouda

Ms. Fatou B. Bensouda, from the Republic of The Gambia, assumed the position of Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in June 2012. Described as “a composed, stately woman with serene features” who projects “confidence and gravitas” and never forgets a name, Ms. Bensouda also has the experience to back up her demeanor.

Fatou Bensouda was born in Banjul, The Gambia. She graduated from the University of IFE with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) degree. Later she obtained her Barrister-at-Law (BL) professional qualification from the Nigeria Law School, followed by a Master of Laws from the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta which made her Gambia’s first expert in international maritime law and the law of the sea.

Bensouda’s love of the law and justice runs deep.

“As a young girl growing up in Gambia in the 1970s, the future chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court watched a female relative being repeatedly beaten by her husband. The beatings happened week after week for four years. And week after week, Fatou Bensouda, who was 11 when the beatings started, would take her relative to the hospital to be treated for her injuries, and then the increasingly outraged girl would round on neighbors and family for doing nothing to protect the woman. Almost four decades later, Bensouda still remembers being told that “there was absolutely nothing my relative could do. The parents and the so-called elders would say [to her], ‘He’s your husband.’ We even went to the police, [but] they said it was a civil matter. It was total helplessness.” It was also a formative experience. “I was very, very angry about it — it really marked me,” says Bensouda, barefoot and wearing a bright print dress at her modest home in the Gambian capital, Banjul. “I made up my mind that law was what I wanted to do in life. I used to go from school to the courthouses just to sit and watch the cases.”

Before assuming the chief prosecutor position at the ICC, she served as a deputy prosecutor under the former chief prosecutor, worked as a justice minister in Gambia and held high-level positions at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

“Human rights are inherent rights,” Bensouda said. “You ought to be able to have justice if those rights are violated.”
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Jamila Akil is a senior editor at Beyond Black and White. Follow her on Twitter @jamilaakil or email her at jamilathewriter-at-gmail-dot-com.