The hard head of the gavel is coming down on gender violence thanks to International Criminal Court (ICC) Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
Bensouda spoke to a filled Wilkins Moot Courtroom in King Hall at the UC Davis School of Law about gender violence on Monday, Mar. 8, coinciding with International Women’s Day.
Originally from Gambia and currently living and serving in The Hague, Netherlands, Bensouda discussed the role of the ICC and gender violence cases currently under investigation.
Incidences of gender violence include rape, forced marriage and pregnancy, sex trafficking, as well as using children as soldiers.
One of the cases under investigation is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where sexual crimes are more frequent than deaths and girl soldiers are daily victims of rape.
Rape was not recognized as a genocidal tool until the 1998 Rome Statute.
“In other settings it was as if there was a tacit agreement to look the other way. The ICC cases signal to the world that the deal is off,” Bensouda said solemnly about recognizing gender violence as a form of genocide.
Established in 2002, the ICC is a permanent international court committed to investigating genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes; and currently has 110 member states.
The ICC functions as a court of last resort, and can only function in participating states, or when referred by the United Nations Security Council. When national judicial systems fail, such as those in DRC or Sudan, the ICC intervenes to investigate the situation.
“It’s important that there’s an entity to address international issues,” said Michael Wu, a first-year law student. “I think from a conservative perspective it could take away a country’s sovereignty and could make a state nervous.”
Although President Bill Clinton signed the United States as a participating state in the ICC, President George W. Bush unsigned and revoked the United States’ participation due to a concern over national sovereignty.
Despite the U.S.’s hostile track record with the ICC, Bensouda remains optimistic about the nation’s future relationship with the international court.
“Fortunately we’re seeing better days,” Bensouda said. “More U.S. officials are openly supporting the court.”
Prior to her election to the ICC Assembly of State Parties in 2004, Bensouda served on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as senior legal advisor and became Gambia’s first international maritime expert.
“I heard her speak in fall 2009, and I was impressed by her eloquence and passion,” said law professor Diane Amann. “I was honored when she accepted the invitation to speak at UC Davis.”
First-year law student Joanna Cuevas Ingram echoed Amann’s praise for Bensouda, and said Bensouda’s trip to UC Davis reflected the quality and prominence of the UC Davis international law program.
Sudan is currently under investigation by the ICC, however present conditions make on-site investigation difficult and dangerous. If and when conclusive evidence is presented, the ICC will likely charge Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with genocide.
“We have not been able to get al-Bashir, but now he’s picking and choosing the countries he visits,” Bensouda said. “He will be marginalized and he will be joining us at the ICC sooner or later.”
GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.