The International Criminal Court's deputy prosecutor has edged out 51 other candidates to win the informal endorsement of the 119 countries that support the tribunal to be its next chief prosecutor.
Liechtenstein's U.N. Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, president of the tribunal's Assembly of States Parties, told the Associated Press that the countries concluded informal consultations Wednesday and agreed that 51-year-old Gambian lawyer Fatou Bensouda should succeed Luis Moreno Ocampo, whose nine-year term expires in mid-2012.
Wenaweser said that at an informal meeting of the 119 countries on Thursday, he will ask that Bensouda be formally elected by the Assembly when it opens its annual meeting at U.N. headquarters on Dec. 12. She would become the second chief prosecutor and the first woman to hold one of the world's top legal posts.
The International Criminal Court, which began operating in 2002, is the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal. It is a court of last resort, stepping in only when countries are unwilling or unable prosecute alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
At the moment, the ICC is dealing with cases from Congo, the Central African Republic, Uganda involving the Lord's Resistance Army, the Darfur conflict in Sudan, the recent Libyan uprising, and postelection violence in Kenya and Ivory Coast.
The ICC has faced criticism in Africa because all its cases so far are in African countries. Several U.N. diplomats said that because of this, there was a strong desire to have an African as the next chief prosecutor.
The Prosecutor Search Committee shortlisted four of the 42 candidates: Bensouda, Andrew Cayley of Britain, Mohamed Chande Othman of Tanzania, and Robert Petit of Canada. It then narrowed the list to the two Africans _ Bensouda and Othman _ and at Wednesday's informal consultations the 119 states parties to the Rome statute, which created the ICC, reached consensus on Bensouda.
Wenaweser said Bensouda is "very well respected ... (and) one of the most experienced practitioners in the field of international criminal justice."
Param Preet Singh, Human Rights Watch's senior international justice counsel, said Bensouda's years at the ICC give her the essential experience to be chief prosecutor, and her selection after a very competitive process will put her in a stronger position.
"The challenge of being chief prosecutor will test her mettle," Singh told AP. "What's most important is the strength of the new prosecutor. That she's an African is also important because it helps to universalize the work of the ICC."
Bensouda has been Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court since 2004. She previously served as Gambia's solicitor-general, attorney general and minister of justice, and was a legal adviser and trial attorney at the international tribunal prosecuting key figures from the 1994 Rwanda genocide.