Press Conference by International Criminal Court’s New Prosecutor, President of Assembly of States Parties to Rome Statute

12 December 2011

Press Conference by International Criminal Court’s New Prosecutor, President of Assembly of States Parties to Rome Statute

12 December 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by International Criminal Court’s New Prosecutor,


President of Assembly of States Parties to Rome Statute


Tiina Intelmann, President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, introduced the institution’s newly elected Prosecutor, Fatou B. Bensouda, at a Headquarters press conference today.

The Assembly elected Ms. Bensouda earlier today at the start of its tenth session, which is scheduled to run through 21 December, after a year-long nomination process.  A Gambian national and the Court’s Deputy Prosecutor, she would replace current Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo when he steps down next June after nine years.

“I’m definitely honoured to be elected to this position and I have the good fortune to inherit a fully functioning office,” she said.  “I will thank again my predecessor for his commitment and dedication to the mandate and for always trying to push the office forward.”  As the new Prosecutor, she would remain committed to the mandate of delivering international criminal justice, fighting impunity and doing her best to ensure the prevention of atrocious crimes, she added.

Asked whether the Human Rights Council’s finding of crimes against humanity in Syria would lead to an investigation, Ms. Bensouda said she was deeply concerned about the situation in that country but it was not a State party to the Rome Statute, which prevented the Court from intervening unless a Security Council referral was made, as in the cases of Libya and Sudan.

When asked about her intentions in light of the fast pace set by the current Prosecutor, she said she would keep that momentum going, noting that part of the process was indicating when it was expedient to act immediately, as in Libya.

Noting that the Court had targeted African leaders, a reporter asked how, as an African herself, her role would affect the institution.

“My origin, being African, has nothing to do with my mandate as Prosecutor of the ICC,” she replied, emphasizing also her disagreement with the notion that the Court was targeting Africa or African leaders.  “The ICC is working for Africa and with African victims,” she said.  “I don’t think any of us can deny that the crimes, the atrocities that are happening in Africa are crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC.  We have only moved based on the legal limits that we have under the Rome Statute.”

She went on to underscore that Africa had taken leadership on international criminal justice, which must be recognized.  The International Criminal Court’s first three cases had been referrals by States parties, and in the case of the two Security Council referrals, of Sudan and Libya, African countries had been present and had voted for the Court’s intervention.  Recently, Côte d’Ivoire had also requested ICC intervention.  “We should not think of it as targeting leaders,” she said.  “We will target the perpetrators of the crimes and continue to work with victims, in Africa or outside Africa.”

Asked whether outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen would become subject to the Court’s jurisdiction if that country became a State party to the Rome Statute, she said jurisdiction would depend on the date on which Yemen made its ratification effective.

The new Prosecutor was then asked whether a trial in The Hague of cases involving violence following Kenya’s 2007 elections would be more or less likely to cause violence in elections next year, and whether she would proceed differently from Mr. Moreno-Ocampo, she said the confirmation of those proceedings had already taken place.  The outgoing Prosecutor’s approach had been to see how his office and the Court could best help prevent post-electoral violence during the upcoming elections.  Holding the proceedings in Kenya would pose witness-protection difficulties, which was one of the reasons for the decision to hold the trial in The Hague, she added.

A correspondent, noting that Egypt had signed but not ratified the Rome Statute, asked about the chances of bringing members of Egypt’s armed forces or “puppet Government” to the International Criminal Court following reports of human rights violations, including virginity tests on females in Tahrir Square, military trials for civilians, mass killings of peaceful demonstrators and the use of deadly teargas on crowds.

Ms. Bensouda replied that the Court had no jurisdiction without ratification.  Unless Egypt made a declaration accepting the Court’s jurisdiction, or the Security Council presented a referral, the Court could do nothing, she added.

Asked whether the Council was the only body that could refer cases to the Court, she said that under the Rome Statute, the Council could request the Court to intervene under a provision of the United Nations Charter.

In response to a question about what would happen to the Court’s workload in the next decade if the crime of aggression was introduced and more States joined, she said it would be up to the States parties to adjust to the new reality of having another crime added to the Court’s case docket.  The crime of aggression was mostly a State crime, but the institution’s accountability was over individuals, not States, she pointed out, stressing that she would be looking for those with the greatest responsibility for that crime.

Ms. Intelmann added that in terms of the crime of aggression, there were still a few years to go.  Ratifications and another step would be taken by the Assembly in 2017.  As for the increasing workload, the institution was a Court of last resort.  Before cases came to the Court, there was national jurisdiction, she said, adding that the whole Rome Statute system was intended to strengthen national capabilities to prosecute international crimes.  “At the end of the day, we would have the universality of the Rome Statute, and all of these States would be able to prosecute themselves the crimes that are under their own Statute.”

Noting that Omar al-Bashir was a fugitive in the Court’s eyes but still in office as President of Sudan, and that possible defendant Saif al-Islam Qadhafi had been apprehended but not yet handed over to the Court, a correspondent asked what actions the Prosecutor proposed to have those individuals brought before the Court and to increase the Court’s prestige worldwide so as to ensure that people understood that it had authority over crimes of that type.

First, regarding Mr. Bashir, Ms. Bensouda explained that the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute were part of an international criminal justice system.  With respect to the arrest of fugitives, it was the role of the States parties to ensure that those wanted by the Court were arrested and surrendered to the Court.

Concerning Mr. Qadhafi, she said that if a State claimed the ability to investigate and prosecute crimes, the International Criminal Court, as a court of last resort, had to wait, unless the State’s proceedings were not genuine and the Court would then have to intervene, she said.

Ms. Intelmann noted that since the Security Council’s referral of Libya, the authorities there were under an obligation to cooperate and follow certain procedures with respect to Mr. Qadhafi.

Asked whether Libya would have to hand Mr. Qadhafi over for a final decision to be taken, Ms. Bensouda said the judges must decide whether the case was admissible, and the Libyans would have to show, by challenging the admissibility of the case, that they were investigating and prosecuting him for those crimes.  Once they established that there were genuine proceedings, the “ICC would have to step back and let Libya do it”, she said.

Asked whether former Côte d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo, who was taken into International Criminal Court custody last week, would be Ms. Bensouda’s first case as Prosecutor, she said he probably would, given that the judges estimated that the beginning of his proceedings would be in June, about the time she would be taking over from Mr. Moreno-Ocampo.

A reporter asked about the merits of a recent complaint filed by a group of Mexicans blaming their current Government for thousands of killings during the war on drugs, and whether the Court had set a deadline for deciding whether the complaint would proceed or be dismissed, Ms. Bensouda said the Court was still receiving information on the complaint.

Asked about the recent indictment of Sudan’s Defence Minister, and how United Nations peacekeeping missions should engage with indicted individuals about mission-related affairs, she said there were other people in the Government that the United Nations could probably deal with, especially with respect to the case just mentioned, as it had been a Security Council referral, but the United Nations should not be dealing directly with those indicted and wanted by the International Criminal Court.

Asked about the United Nations having arranged a flight for Ahmad Harun, another indicted Sudanese individual, she said the Court had made its objections known about that situation.  (See Press Release SC/10274)

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.