By Omar Bah
Fatou Bom Bensouda, High Commissioner of The Gambia in London, is the recipient of the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Outstanding Lawyer Recognition Award 2022.
The Magnitsky Awards are named after the Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who was murdered in Russian police custody after exposing a massive government corruption scheme. His name has since become synonymous with the Magnitsky Act, which exists to freeze assets and ban the visas of human rights violators worldwide. The award night which takes place in London every November to commemorate Sergei Magnitsky’s legacy is attended by journalists, politicians, NGOs and civil society and it allows the recipients of these awards the opportunity to point out – to a wide audience – the horrible injustices taking place in the world. Madam Bensouda was accompanied at the awards by the deputy head of mission, Mr Suntou Touray and her husband.
Addressing the award night shortly after receiving her accolade, High Commissioner Bensouda said: “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.”
High Commissioner Bensouda added that “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 witnessed 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,” she added.
She said 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,” she stated.
She added: “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.”
She said while the challenges are many, with strong, consistent, and vocal support of all those dedicated to advancing the international rule of law, she is 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,” she noted.