Fatou Bensouda, the daughter of a government servant and a housewife, was raised in Banjul, the capital of the Gambia, a city in West Africa. Omar Gaye Nyang, her father, was a well-known wrestling promoter.
Bensouda completed her pre-university studies in The Gambia and her undergraduate studies at the University of Ife in Nigeria, where she earned a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) degree. She eventually pursued a master’s degree in law from the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta after enrolling at the Nigeria Law School to earn her professional status as a barrister-at-law.
Bensouda returned to The Gambia in 1987 to start a career as a public prosecutor after completing law school in Nigeria. She was chosen by Yahaya Jammeh’s administration to serve as the Gambia’s justice minister and attorney general in 1998. She later left this position to serve as the general manager of the International Bank for Commerce in Banjul.
Bensouda rose to notoriety on the global scene while working as a trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, where she later rose to the position of senior legal advisor.
She was chosen in 2004 to serve as a deputy prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), where she worked for eight (8) years. She was in charge of the ICC’s prosecution section for the majority of her service, and led the most notable case on the court.
Thomas Lubanga, a warlord in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was successfully prosecuted by her team after he was found guilty of kidnapping kids as young as 11 and employing them as “child soldiers.”
When she was selected as the ICC’s head prosecutor in 2012, she reached the pinnacle of global justice. She had previously been chosen to serve in this role by the Assembly of States Parties by a consensus vote.
She became the first African and woman to lead the prosecution team with her appointment. She held office from June 2012 to June 2021. Dominic Ongwen, the commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were found guilty under her direction. Others, however, claimed Laurent Gbagbo, the previous president of the Ivory Coast, was a failure. Gbagbo was absolved of crimes against humanity while serving as the ICC head.
“We were not there just to prosecute a leader, we were there to do justice,” she told France 24 following the criticisms. “Nobody will say crimes have not been committed in Ivory Coast.”
However, Bendouda has received numerous honors for her work. In 2009, she received the prestigious International Jurists Award from the International Commission of Jurists. Additionally, she received honorary membership in the American Society of International Law in 2014, the World Peace Through Law Award in 2011, the Whitney Harris World Law Institute, and the United Nations Association of Spain’s XXXV Peace Prize in 2015.
She was included among the top 100 global influencers by Time Magazine in 2012. She was also named one of the most prominent Africans by the New African Magazine and one of the top global thinkers in 2013 by Foreign Policy Magazine.
She was also listed in Forbes Magazine’s 2020 list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Africa. Because of their achievements and contributions to the advancement of international criminal justice, Bensouda and her colleagues were nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.