It’s IntLawGrrls’ great pleasure today to the reprint the remarks that Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, gave on April 11, 2014, at the capstone event of the weeklong joint meeting of the American Society of International Law and the International Law Association: the gala dinner at which several distinguished jurists were honored. Bensouda, who served at one time as Gambia’s Minister of Justice, became the 2d woman born in Africa to have received the ASIL Honorary Membership (the 1st was Navi Pillay of South Africa, in 2003).
IntLawGrrls were honored to welcome Bensouda as a IntLawGrrl 2-1/2 years ago, when she contributed the speech she delivered the text of the speech she gave when the ICC Assembly of States Parties elected her as the court’s 2d chief Prosecutor in December 2011. As we noted then, she’d already served as Deputy Prosecutor for a number of years. Before that, she was a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and both a private-sector and government attorney in Gambia.
The ASIL award is the most recent of many she has received; others include the 2008 ICJ International Jurists Award, 2011 World Peace Through Law Award, honorary doctorates from Middlesex University in London and Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, and a 2012 Time magazine listing as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Bensouda’s remarks moved the persons present at this month’s ASIL dinner. We are honored now to share them, below, with all our readers:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Esteemed Friends and Colleagues,
Allow me at the outset to express my most sincere gratitude to the Honors Committee and the Executive Council of the American Society of International Law for awarding me the 2014 Honorary Membership Award.
It is a distinct privilege and an honour to be selected by ASIL, this most eminent institution dedicated to the advancement of international law, for this year’s Honorary Member Award, and to be joining the distinguished group of prior recipients of this award.
There is indeed no finer award than the recognition of esteemed peers for one’s humble contributions to the field of international law, and for this, I am deeply flattered and I thank you.
As I humbly accept this Award, I am reminded of my formative years, when I served as a clerk in the courts of my native home, The Gambia. We all have those moments in our lives; those decisive moments that leave a mark and help us determine our trajectory in our transient earthly existence.
As a young girl, I recall witnessing countless courageous women who were victims of rape as well as other forms of sexual and domestic violence relive their ordeals through the Gambian court system; their agony and suffering in the face of a judicial system and indeed society, which could not fully afford them the protective embrace of the law, are still vivid and etched in my memory. To this day, their plight and cries of injustice are one of the driving forces behind my firm commitment to the pursuit of justice.
At the risk of sounding cliché, I knew from that moment that I desired, indeed that I had a duty to represent such women; I knew from that moment that through the vector of the law, vulnerable groups in society and those whose rights have been trampled upon can and must be protected and afforded a measure of justice. My path had been made crystal clear.
These convictions were only reinforced through my experience at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda where my work exposed me to the horrors that unfolded in Rwanda, including the mass rapes and murder of women as part of a deliberate campaign, as well as the unspeakable violence perpetrated against fellow human beings. What transpired in Rwanda in 1994, defied reason, muted morality and tainted the 20th century with the blood of the innocent in one of modern history’s most violent acts of criminality and mass murder. The vice of tribalism in Rwanda and machination of brute slaughter on a mass scale left a permanent scar on the conscience of humanity. One, and indeed the world, cannot remain silent and indifferent in the face of such atrocities.
As ICC Prosecutor, I have done my best and shall continue to do whatever I can to help restore dignity to the shattered lives of victims of atrocities and to give breath to our common yearning for the international rule of law.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The honour you have so generously bestowed upon me tonight is equally an opportune moment to reflect on the vision that James Brown Scott and Elihu Root had more than 100 hundred years ago when they first conceived this Institution, which today boasts some 4,000 members from more than 100 countries from around the world.
As I accept this Award, I rededicate myself to the mission of these visionaries, to foster the study and practice of international law, and to promote the establishment and maintenance of international relations on the basis of law and blind justice.
At the ICC, we are engaged in translating this vision into reality. As the Preamble of the Rome Statute reminds us, mass crimes threaten the peace, security and well-being of the world. My belief in the power of the law as a potent tool to stop and prevent violence and to pacify communities gripped by conflict remains unshaken.
As Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, my objectives are to hold perpetrators of the worst crimes of concern to the international community to account, to bring a measure of justice to victims and affected communities, to deter others from committing mass atrocities, and thereby contribute to the goal of ushering in a world free from the unimaginable atrocities that have plagued humanity over millennia.
To be sure, my contribution to this vision may be modest, but it is given with genuine passion and unyielding dedication. It is incumbent upon all of us to stay committed to the vision and objectives of the Founding Fathers of ASIL and of the Rome Statute, notwithstanding the many challenges present. Today, before you, I once again pledge my dedication to achieving this goal, and challenge all of us to do the same.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to express publicly my heartfelt gratitude to my beloved family and cherished friends. Truth be told: if not for their caring support throughout my career, I would not be standing here today. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their Godly patience with a renewed promise to continue on the same path so as not to let their sacrifice and faith in me to be in vain.
To conclude, let me state that I accept this prestigious award as a reminder of the great obligations we all have to the promotion of international law.
We are living at a turning point in history where the deficits of the past are slowly giving way, through friction, trial, courage, and sacrifice no less, to a more humane and balanced relations amongst and within states.
We are not there yet by any means, but the velocity of change has been fixed towards a more enlightened path for humanity.
Let there be law, the world over.
Thank you for your attention.