Gambian woman takes over as ICC chief prosecutor

Former International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo (L) listens as Fatou Bensouda (R) is holding her first speech as new prosecutor after her swearing-in ceremony as the International Criminal Court's new chief prosecutor in The Hague, on June 15, 2012.

THE HAGUE - Gambian lawyer Fatou Bensouda was sworn in Friday as the International Criminal Court's new chief prosecutor, pledging she was ready to lead the fight against the world's worst war criminals.

The 51-year-old Bensouda is the first woman and the first African to head the team of prosecutors at the tribunal, which is currently investigating 15 cases in seven countries, all of them African.

Taking the oath before ICC judges and a public gallery packed with foreign diplomats and dignitaries, Bensouda vowed to continue to pursue those wanted for crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"We should not be guided by the words and propaganda of a few influential individuals whose sole aim is to evade justice but, rather, we should focus on, and listen to the millions of victims who continue to suffer from massive crimes," she said at a ceremony in The Hague.

"The one thing you can rest assured of is that I will be the prosecutor for all 121 State Parties, acting in full independence and impartiality," said Bensouda, who served as predecessor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's number two since 2004.

Bensouda, once Gambia's justice minister, was elected last year by the 121 state parties which have signed up to the Rome Statute - the International Criminal Court's founding document.

The world's first permanent court to try those accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity began work in 2003, but has only secured one conviction.

ICC president Judge Sang-Hyun Song said Bensouda - who has vowed to work for justice for the victims of African conflicts - brought "a wealth of prosecutorial experience, grown from many years of hard and dedicated work."

"I am confident that her strong independent voice, legal expertise and genuine concern for human rights issues will contribute greatly to the continous fight against impunity," the judge said.

Her inauguration was also hailed by non-governmental groups.

"Fatou Bensouda is extremely qualified to lead the office of the prosecutor," said Willam Pace, the head of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a body which monitors the work of the tribunal.

Her appointment will "reinforce the ICC's growing position as a major force in global peace and security affairs", Pace added.

Known as the public face of the ICC, the Argentinian Moreno-Ocampo stepped down Friday after nine years as chief prosecutor.

ICC judges have issued 20 arrest warrants and nine summonses but only six suspects have been arrested so far.

Only one has been convicted - Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga who was found guilty in March of using child soldiers in the 2002-3 conflict in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Those still on the run include Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebel leader Joseph Kony.

Those arrested include Ivory Coast's toppled leader Laurent Gbagbo, who is awaiting a hearing to see if he will face trial over violence that erupted after he refused to accept defeat in a 2010 election, killing 3,000 people.

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