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High Commissioner Bensouda Receives “Outstanding Lawyer Award 2022”

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High Commissioner of The Gambia in London, H.E Dr.  Fatou Bensouda holding the “Outstanding Lawyer Award 2022” 

H.E Dr. Fatou Bensouda, High Commissioner of The Gambia in London received Outstanding Lawyer Recognition from The Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Award 2022.

Accompanied by Her Deputy Head of Mission, Mr Suntou Touray, and Husband, Mr Bensouda, Her Excellency, Dr Fatou Bensouda delivered an acceptance speech at the occasion.

Below is the speech

The Hermitage Capital Management,

Distinguished Members of The Jury,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Fellow Awardees,

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Allow me at the outset to express my most sincere gratitude to the Hermitage Capital Management for hosting the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards, and for their generous recognition of my work through this award (Outstanding Lawyer Award 2022).

I am sincerely touched and honoured that the prominent people such as Mr. William Browder who founded and make up this impressive group have considered me worthy of this prestigious honour. I am also grateful to the members of the jury for finding me fitting for this award and for selecting me to receive it.

I accept this honour as recognition not of my humble achievements, but rather of the importance and the promise of international criminal justice for a more just and peaceful world in this new century, and the crucially important role that we all have and must continue to play towards these necessary goals. Goals, indeed, rendered all the more pressing as we lay witness to great human suffering around the world today, from West to East, and North and South.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One cannot remain silent and indifferent in the face of atrocities. “Never again” regrettably continues to ring hollow in so many conflicts. We don’t seem to learn the lessons of the past and continue to allow unbridled violence to cause great human suffering.

As the former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, I have done my best and will continue to do whatever I can to help restore dignity to the shattered lives of the survivors of atrocities. I have been witness to the consequences of armed conflict on the lives of women and girls in particular. In the courage and dignity of victims and survivors, I have seen human nature at its best. And in the sheer brutality of crimes against them, I have seen it at its very worst. 

Sexual and gender-based violence is sadly characteristic of so many conflicts, often perpetrated as a deliberate weapon of war or repression. We see this obscene reality in too many conflicts we are witnessing today.

Women and girls are often doubly victimized. Not only do combatants see their bodies as legitimate battlefields, but their own communities then reject and ostracize them for what they have endured. We must do better. Our civilisation must do better.

How can it be that we continue to witness such beastly violence and inhumanity in the so-called modern age when we pride ourselves on the progress humanity has made in so many areas, and yet, our propensity towards violence against our fellow human beings remains cruel and unchanged, and even more destructive with modern weaponry.

Dear Friends,

The era of impunity for atrocity crimes must belong to the dustbins of history.

While the challenges are many, with strong, consistent, and vocal support of all those dedicated to advancing the international rule of law, I am confident progress can be made. And here again, I would like to emphasise the importance of women empowerment and women leadership.

Having more women leaders effectively means increasing the representation of important groups of human society that have historically been marginalized and silenced. 

It means that a group that has rarely made decisions that have led to violence finally has a voice at the negotiating table. Women leaders have a critical and powerful perspective to bring to the table in leading the fight against violence.

We need to, increasingly, amplify women voices and ensure they are in positions of power and decision-making. I truly believe this can make a positive difference.

Dear friends and colleagues,

Let me also emphasize that seldom have major advances in human progress traveled the path of least resistance. The fight against impunity will have its successes and challenges.

Some ten years ago when I assumed office as the first woman Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, I stated that justice, real justice, is not a pick-and-choose system, and that to be effective, to be just, and to be a real deterrent, the Office of the Prosecutor’s activities and decisions must be based solely on the law and the evidence. 

The Court may operate in a political environment but our work must be shielded and free from the winds and whims of politics when those trends are not aligned with our collective obligations under the Rome Statute.

During my tenure, I did my utmost to live by these convictions in the service of the Rome Statute.

I strove, throughout my term, to honourably and with integrity discharge a complex multi-faceted mandate, with independence and impartiality – without fear or favour.

I sought to focus not on the words and propaganda of a few influential individuals whose aim is to evade justice but – rather – to listen to the millions of victims who look to the Court as a beacon of hope, as the last bastion of justice and accountability for atrocity crimes, where the law – their protector – has otherwise fallen silent.

We must remain vigilant to ensure that international criminal justice remains principled and objective and is not co-opted as a convenient instrument in the service of politics. That is the only way to ensure international criminal justice can contribute to the progress of humanity and a higher civilisation for future generations.

For me, it was critical to continue to stand firm in our resolve and speak with one voice that the commission of mass atrocities as merely politics by other means will no longer receive a pass and that perpetrators irrespective of rank or official status must answer for their crimes. 

We must continue to work for the victims of atrocity crimes who look at the Court as a last beacon of hope.

Its defense must indeed be equally strong, if not stronger, even when the Court’s activities might not always be politically convenient. This is after all at the heart of why the Court was originally founded; that atrocities that shock our collective conscience must be subjected to the power of the law and legal scrutiny.

For the sake of victims of atrocity crimes, we must not lose the progress made towards a culture of accountability, as an essential pillar of a rules-based multilateral order.

We cannot undo the suffering of the past or the horrors of history, but we have a joint responsibility not to repeat them.

International criminal justice as well as international human rights law have thrived in the second half of the last century. To be clear, mass crimes still occur far too frequently, and indeed, the International Criminal Court is a direct answer to the continued commission of atrocities and violation of human rights throughout the world.

Nevertheless – and this is very important in my view – the paradigm has shifted: it has become universally accepted that all human beings have inherent rights and dignity. It came to be universally believed that the human rights and dignity of each one of us must be protected, for the dignity of that individual, but also for the good of all.

In our times, humanity no longer accepts that victims of gross human rights violations suffer in silence. We, as peoples and nations of the world, embraced the notion that no longer should the perpetrators of the world’s most heinous crimes be allowed to escape justice. Such a powerful idea.

This is the world I believe in and is one in which many today believe so as well.

Yet, Ladies and Gentlemen, today, we are facing immense challenges. Dark forces and extremism aim to divide our societies and our resolve to live up to the promises of accountability and human rights and dignity for all. Human rights and the fight against impunity are under a unique attack.

Our new century has already seen countless destabilising conflicts around the world resulting in great losses, in innocent blood and national treasure. Regrettably, each year, countless children, women, and men are either affected or fall victim to unimaginable atrocities and extremism.

Grave crimes in many conflicts around the world shock our collective conscience and threaten the peace, security, and well-being of the world.

Today, it is thus more important than ever, that we curb the destructive impact of conflicts and rising extremism on civilians.

Today, it is more important than ever, that we stand up against the erosion of human rights.

Today, it is more important than ever, that we do not cave into the pressures of state power plays and realpolitik that aim to do away with international criminal justice.

Today, it is more important than ever, that we do all we can to ensure that security, stability, and the protective embrace of the law become a reality to be relished by all, in all corners of the world.

Under the critical watch of history, we must not allow “Never Again” to ring hollow to taunt the memory of the victims of atrocity crimes.

We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to future generations to nurture the international criminal justice project and human rights.

Ending impunity and bringing justice to victims of atrocity crimes are not the preserve of any one institution – it is a common goal and aspirations that ties us all together in our shared quest for justice, peace, and stability.

Only together will we achieve what we have set out to do and create a culture of accountability.

I thank my husband for being here with me and for the support all these years and also appreciate and thank my able Deputy Head of Mission for his presence here as well.

I thank you for the gift of your time in listening to me, and again for this prestigious honour.

Source: High Commissioner of The Gambia in London, 16 November 2022

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