Reflections from the International Criminal Court Prosecutor

By Bensouda, Fatou B. | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Reflections from the International Criminal Court Prosecutor


Bensouda, Fatou B., Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Presented at Vanderbilt University Law School on August 24, 2012

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you all for being here today. Allow me to thank the Vanderbilt University Law School for inviting me to speak to you. I look forward to our discussions.

Today I would like to introduce the idea of a new paradigm in international relations, which was introduced by the work of the drafters of the Rome Statute and the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC): this idea is that of law as a global tool to contribute to the world's peace and security.

This idea first surfaced with the belief that the power of law has the capacity to redress the balance between the criminals who wield power and the victims who suffer at their hands. Law provides power for all regardless of their social, economic, or political status; it is the ultimate weapon that the weak have against the strong.

Indeed, when implemented equally and fairly, the law sets one standard for everyone; it empowers all communities and individuals, and provides justice for all. It does not allow any individual or any segment of society to override or manipulate the order for individual gains, if it is backed by sound institutions. In the domestic context, we have created institutions such as parliament, the police, prosecutors, and courts to establish law and order.

But what about the international context? How are we supposed to counter and prevent massive crimes of an international character such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, like those that were committed in Darfur, Libya, or Cote d'Ivoire?

Again, we need institutions: more comprehensive institutions of international character.

States that participated in drafting the Rome Statute created the ICC as a reflection of this idea: a judicial institution to contribute to the prevention of massive atrocities by adding an independent and permanent justice component to the world's efforts to achieve peace and security. In order to "be governed by the force of law, not by the law of force" as once said by William Sloane Coffin, we need such institutions to act as an enforcer of the fight against massive crimes.

I believe in the power of the law as a potent tool to stop and prevent violence. Peace, lasting peace, is a consequence of law and order.

I will thus suggest a model of law as a three-pronged tool for achieving lasting peace: it is a tool to protect citizens and territories; a tool to redress the wrongs done to victims; and a tool to define unacceptable behavior, criminal behavior that cannot lead to maintaining or acquiring power.

Let me start with the notion of law as a tool of protection.

The most important function of the rule of law, both in the international and domestic contexts, is to provide protection to individuals. In the domestic setting, citizens are protected by laws established by domestic institutions.

With the advent of the ICC, the individuals that are nationals of States Party are protected not only at the domestic level, but also at the international level. Today, 2.4 billion people are under the protection of the Rome Statute system of global justice against oppression and repression by the powerful.

However, it is important to note that states themselves benefit from the protection and the activities of the ICC as well.

The composition of the court's States Party reveals the fundamental benefits it provides. Our 121 States Party come from the three regions that have taken the lead in terms of international justice efforts: Africa, Europe, and South America. Their decision to promote the international rule of law is not just based on idealism: it is a matter of realism.

These regions have suffered from massive crimes and have eventually come to realize that a national state acting alone cannot protect its citizens from these crimes. …

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