With ICC at a crossroads, new prosecutor elected to lead Court’s fight against impunity for the most serious crimes

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(The Hague, Paris, New York) – Late Friday, 12 February, after months of unfruitful negotiations among States to agree on a consensus candidate, the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute elected Karim Khan to become the next Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). At a time when the Court embarks on a process of profound changes to strengthen its performance, and still faces unprecedented attacks and challenges, the election of a new Prosecutor represents a key opportunity to reaffirm the Court as an essential actor in the fight against impunity for international crimes, and strengthen its impact on victims and affected communities.

To learn more about the background of the newly elected Prosecutor, read his application and responses to questions from civil society.

After several postponements of the prosecutorial elections initially scheduled for December 2020, and while States Parties could not agree on a consensus candidate, Karim Khan was elected as next ICC Prosecutor by the ASP. Khan was elected in the second round of voting – the first time the vote was held by secret ballot – earning 72 votes out of the 123 States Parties, with the second candidate, Fergal Gaynor, receiving 42 votes. The new Prosecutor will take office on 16 June 2021, for a non-renewable term of nine years. He will succeed Fatou Bensouda, who has filled the role for the past nine years.

“FIDH welcomes the new Prosecutor and hopes that he will maintain and strengthen the long-lasting relationship between the Office of the Prosecutor and civil society. We stand ready to assist the next Prosecutor and his office to face the challenges of bringing justice to victims and affected communities: the essence of the Court’s existence.”

Alice Mogwe, FIDH President

During her nine-year term, Bensouda has forged an important legacy. FIDH hopes that Khan will build upon her work to strengthen the work of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), especially concerning its approach towards the rights of victims and affected communities, preliminary examinations, and the investigation and prosecution of sexual and gender-based crimes. Thousands of victims and survivors around the world see in the ICC their last resort for justice. At this pivotal moment for the Court, Khan will have to ensure that the institution rightly deserves to stand for the final hope for justice and accountability.

“Numerous challenges await the new Prosecutor: limited financial and human resources, lack of cooperation from States Parties, direct attacks against the Court and its personnel, and in-depth reform of the Court’s work, to name a few. We are sure that Karim Khan will continue to defend strongly the independence of the Office of the Prosecutor and the Court in face of all these challenges, while making it a priority for his Office to strengthen the link between the Court and survivors, who should be at the center of ICC processes.”

Shawan Jabareen, FIDH Secretary General and General Director of Al-Haq

Khan joins the ICC at a critical time. In 2020, a review process of the performance of the Court led a group of independent experts to issue 384 recommendations to the Court’s different organs as well as to States Parties to strengthen and improve the its work and mandate. While a mechanism has been created to assess and follow up on the recommendations, the new Prosecutor must play an active role to ensure their implementation over the coming years.


Karim Khan was elected following a particularly complex process. After a call for applications was issued on 31 October 2019 by the Assembly of States Parties, the appointed Committee on the Election of the Prosecutor (CEP) and a panel of experts carefully assessed all applications. Out of a longlist of 14 candidates selected for interviews, four were identified as the most suitable candidates for the position and officially and publicly shortlisted on 1 July 2020. At this point, States Parties to the Rome Statute, responsible for electing the next ICC Prosecutor, were invited to find a consensus on one of the shortlisted candidates – a task that turned out to be more complex than expected. Due to the lack of possible consensus, the decision was made to consider all interested candidates from the longlist.

The extension of the shortlist raised concerns among civil society organisations (CSOs) who deemed the decision to be a deviation from the terms of reference for the election of the Prosecutor as adopted by the Bureau of the ASP, which could set an unfortunate precedent. After the decision was taken, CSOs particularly called on States Parties to ensure that the election of a new ICC Prosecutor be the result of a merit-based, rigorous, and fair assessment of the qualification of all candidates, including of their experience, expertise and high moral character, following a thorough vetting mechanism.

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