The British lawyer who defended the Kenyan Vice President, William Ruto, at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been elected Prosecutor of the court to replace Fatou Bensouda from The Gambia who is stepping down after nine years.
Karim Khan, who is currently the head of the UN Security Council-mandated investigation of crimes committed by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, will take up his position in June.
Mr Khan successfully represented Mr Ruto who was facing charges of murder, deportation and persecution during the violence that followed Kenya’s 2007 election.
He also served as defence counsel on various cases at the Yugoslav tribunal, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Mr Khan was also a legal adviser in the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
In the second ballot during the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statue of the ICC in New York over the weekend, Mr Khan was elected with 72 votes, well over the required majority of 62.
As a criminal lawyer and human rights expert, international justice advocates are hoping that these two attributes would help him improve the prosecution’s performance at the ICC.
One West African international justice expert told the GNA: “I welcome Mr Khan’s election very warmly.
“I like the fact that he has a defence and investigative background.
“I believe he’ll do well.”
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said on Twitter: “Karim’s extensive experience in international law will be pivotal in ensuring we hold those responsible for the most heinous crimes to account and gain justice for their victims.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it expected Mr Khan to “rise to the challenge” facing the ICC.
“Addressing the obstacles he faces is the only way to build support among all the court’s stakeholders for his mandate and the ICC as a whole,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at HRW.
“Karim Khan’s election as prosecutor is occurring at a time when the ICC is needed more than ever but has faced significant challenges and pressure on its role.
“We will be looking to Khan to address shortcomings in the court’s performance, while demonstrating firm independence in seeking to hold even the most powerful rights abusers to account,” Mr Dicker added.
HRW said Mr Khan should “grapple with [the ICC’s] sizable workload in light of the failure of some ICC member countries to recognise the need for additional resources”.