Member states of the International Criminal Court (ICC) are due to elect a new prosecutor general on Friday, a daunting task whose current holder is subject to US sanctions.
Four candidates – from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy and Spain – are competing to succeed outgoing Attorney General Fatou Bensouda, who has led controversial investigations, including into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or even Afghanistan.
British media reported that Britain’s Karim Khan would be in the center stage to secure the position, ahead of Spaniard Carlos Castrisana, Irish Fergal Gaynor and Italian Francesco Le Foy.
Despite numerous attempts in recent weeks, the member states of the International Criminal Court have failed to reach consensus on the appointment, and they must now decide in a vote at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
Bensouda, who was born in the Gambia, is due to quit in June after nine years in one of the toughest jobs in international justice, leaving behind a mixed record at a court in The Hague.
The person who will become the court’s third prosecutor since its inception in 2002 will be responsible for massive files and complex cases, in a court whose legitimacy is constantly questioned.
Karim Khan, a British lawyer and human rights specialist, recently led a special United Nations investigation into the crimes of the Islamic State and called for trials similar to those carried out by Nazi leaders in Nuremberg.
Spain’s Carlos Castrisana, a trained judge, previously chaired a UN commission on fighting crime and corruption in Guatemala, but resigned in 2010, claiming to be the victim of “systematic attacks” by power-hungry officials.
Irish Fergal Gaynor represented crime victims at the International Criminal Court, including in the investigation into the war in Afghanistan as well as in the case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Meanwhile, Sicily’s chief prosecutor Francesco Le Foy has dealt with cases against the Italian mafia and a large network of smugglers.
The first responsibilities of the new Prosecutor will be to decide on next steps in the investigation of war crimes in Afghanistan and the particularly controversial investigation of the 2014 Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza.
Last year, the administration of former US President Donald Trump targeted Fatou Bensouda and another senior official at the International Criminal Court, and imposed sanctions on them, including travel bans and asset freezes, over the investigation into alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan.
Israel and the United States, which are not members of the International Criminal Court, have also strongly opposed another investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups.
But last week, ICC judges ruled that the court has jurisdiction over juveniles in the occupied Palestinian territories, paving the way for an investigation into war crimes.
The administration of the new president, Joe Biden, has shown that it is less confrontational, but has not yet said whether it intends to abandon the sanctions imposed on Fatou Bensouda, which it in turn described as “unacceptable.”
Ms Bensouda has a mixed record behind her, although, according to experts, she has expanded the reach of the International Criminal Court.
Under his leadership, former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo was acquitted of crimes against humanity, while the former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was acquitted on appeal.
Also, Kenyan Uhuru Kenyatta said Fatou Bensouda had dropped charges of crimes against humanity.
But Mrs. Bensouda recently secured high-profile convictions against Dominic Ongwen, a Ugandan child soldier who became a commander of the LRA, and Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda.
The International Criminal Court is the only permanent war crimes court in the world. She has often been criticized for taking primary responsibility for the affairs of African countries.