Costa Rica: Elizabeth Odio Benito

I am an optimist. I am completely convinced that some day the earth will be a better place to live in.

— Elizabeth Odio Benito

Elizabeth Odio Benito is vice-president of the International Criminal Court in the Dutch city of The Hague. The Costa Rican law professor was one of the few female judges of the UN court in the former Yugoslavia, where she made a decisive contribution so that war crimes against women, especially rape and other forms of sexual violence, would no longer be treated as small affairs. Thanks to her commitment and that of other women, the Criminal Court's statutes now include forms of sexual violence, rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and others as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Elizabeth Odio Benito is a former law professor, former secretary of justice of Costa Rica, former judge of the UN court on former Yugoslavia. Since 2003 she has been vice president of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. “My dream is to achieve peace and justice for all and equality for women,” she says in her office. “When many people pull in the same direction, you are no longer alone.” That is true for her as well as for the presence of women in international legal history. When judges for the ICC were to be elected, international jurists from the NGO Women's Caucus for Gender Justice made sure that the ICC member states put forward enough female candidates. Without this campaign, the world's highest court would have been a men's club. However, now seven of the 18 judges are women. Nevertheless, the election of Elizabeth Odio Benito was not free of obstacles. Her country's head of state was unwilling to support her candidacy, perhaps due to a personal desire for revenge. However, Mireya Moscoso, then president of Panama, jumped in and recommended the candidate along with numerous Latin American women's organizations. She was supported in part because she had always supported women. As judge of the UN court in former Yugoslavia, she discovered that a Bosnian Serb was not going to be accused of sexual violence despite compelling evidence – he was later sentenced to 20 years in prison for the torture and death of Muslim women and men. Elizabeth Odio Benito undertook an unusual step. “Do not forget the women!” she said publicly to head prosecutor Richard Goldstone, and this was broadcasted worldwide by CNN and other means of media. “As a judge you should not really do something like that,” she laughed. “That is the job of the public prosecutor, but I did it anyway.” And it worked.

International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC)