On June 16, Briton Karim Khan will become ICC prosecutor general. He will have to forget the last nine years of Gambian Fatou Bensouda.
Quite a symbol: while it is expected that Laurent Gbagbo returns to Ivory Coast on June 17, the International Criminal Court will experience, the day before, a major upheaval: after nearly nine years at the head of the international court, the Attorney General Fatou Bensouda will give way to Karim Khan. Symbolically, the choice is strong: accused of "racial hunting" and neocolonialism by the African Union, the ICC is "de-Africanized", since it is a Briton who becomes Attorney General, instead of a Gambian.
The election of Karim Khan is a boon for the institution which, in recent years, has experienced many setbacks, notably seeing the Sudanese Omar al-Bechir escape him on multiple occasions. Or even having to face an outcry after the acquittal of Charles Blé Goudé and Laurent Gbagbo, after ten years spent in court. Heavily criticized, Fatou Bensouda will not leave only good memories within the International Criminal Court. On the Ivorian case, he has always been criticized for the inconsistency of his accusations and for not having enough evidence to indict former President Gbagbo.
Karim Khan will therefore have the heavy task of making people forget the various failures. But for all that, the new attorney general will continue to work on Africa. The lawyer, a human rights specialist, knows the continent well: he has worked on several cases, since his name appears in international and special tribunals for Rwanda and Sierra Leone, among others. He also defended the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sentenced to 50 years in prison nine years ago.
But Khan must revisit the general policy of the ICC. Africa is counting on him, since the continent was one of the spearheads of his election. In all, 33 African countries, having ratified the Rome Statute, voted last February. Most of them gave their voice to the Briton, supported by the UN special advisor for the prevention of genocide, the Senegalese Adama Dieng, who would have convinced him to apply for the post of attorney general.
Review the governance of the ICC
Despite this, Karim Khan had not been selected in the final selection. Three African countries mainly worked so that Khan could finally participate in the poll: Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Kenya. For them, as for Adama Dieng, Khan's candidacy contrasts with Bensouda's lightness: the Briton is a technician and he knows international law better than anyone. It should therefore prevent the Ivorian scenario from happening again in the coming years.
Appointed world ambassador of the African Bar Association in 2018, Karim Khan therefore has all the cards in hand to restore the luster of yesteryear to the ICC and to make people forget the accusations of neocolonialism made against the international jurisdiction. The African avocado culture worked in his favor at the time of the vote. His Muslim religion has also been an asset, since his father is an Ahmadi, a persecuted community in Pakistan and several other countries.
But before restoring the image of the ICC, Khan will have to review its governance, often criticized. During his campaign for his election, he deplored the "empty promises" of the International Criminal Court and indicated that he was not there to launch investigations in all sorts. The break with Bensouda therefore seems to be underway. To do this, he will have to clean up the administration of the ICC. He promised it and it will be his first project. It will then be time to launch new investigations. Islamic State specialist, he should work to consolidate this file. Finally, he will have to reflect on the relationship between the Court and the African continent. The next nine years promise to be decisive for the future of the ICC.