ICC Bensouda
ICC Bensouda

PARIS - Gambia's Fatou Bensouda was sworn in Friday as the International Criminal Court's new chief prosecutor, becoming the first African and woman to preside over the Hague-based tribunal.  Bensouda has rejected criticism of double standards in the ICC's prosecutions that have so far only targeted Africa.

Fifty-one-year-old Bensouda becomes only the second chief prosecutor of the nine-year-old International Criminal Court (ICC).  She takes over from Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, after serving as his number two for years.

In interviews, Bensouda has promised continuity - a continuity that human rights expert Anthony Dworkin, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, says the young court badly needs.

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"There have been some controversies about the way it (the ICC) has developed in the last few years, and I think the most important thing now is to let it settle down and to approach the job in a professional way - and we can expect her to do that," said Dworkin.

The Netherlands-based ICC is the world's first permanent body that tries individuals accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.  But so far, all its cases deal with Africa.  That has generated criticism that the court is biased - criticism that both Bensouda and predecessor Ocampo reject.

"People have already answered that (the criticisms) quite effectively by saying it's working on behalf of victims in Africa, that most of these cases were in any case referred by the countries themselves, and so on," said Dworkin.  "But nevertheless, I think from a symbolic standpoint that an African chief prosecutor will send a very clear message that this is a court which works for universal justice and universal values."  

A longtime lawyer, Bensouda served as Gambia's attorney general and justice minister, and worked for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Her appointment comes as the ICC tries its first former head of state - Ivory Coast's former president, Laurent Gbagbo.