AMSTERDAM International Criminal Court deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is one of four candidates on a shortlist to replace Luis Moreno-Ocampo as chief prosecutor of the world's top war crimes court when his nine-year term ends next year.
Bensouda, 50, of Gambia, was appointed the ICC's deputy prosecutor in September 2004 and previously worked as a legal adviser and trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania.
She has long been regarded as favourite to take over from the tough-talking Moreno-Ocampo, particularly as the ICC's cases are largely focused on Africa at this time, and she has the backing of the African Union which has been critical of the ICC.
The other three on the shortlist are Britain's Andrew Cayley, a co-prosecutor in the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia, Tanzania's Chief Justice Mohamed Chande Othman, and Canadian Robert Petit, a war crimes counsel in Canada's Department of Justice.
The candidates' names were released by the selection committee of the Assembly of States Parties, which oversees the Hague-based war crimes court. The committee interviewed 8 candidates from a list of 52 before deciding on the shortlist.
ICC member states must now try to reach a consensus on one candidate, possibly by this month, followed by a formal vote at a meeting of the Assembly of States Parties in December in New York. The new prosecutor will take office next July.
Param-Preet Singh, a senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, said it was a strong shortlist.
"It's good that there is more than one African candidate. It indicates how many applications must have come from the African continent," said Singh.
Argentinian Moreno-Ocampo has won praise for his role in promoting the work of the ICC. He has launched seven formal investigations, issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir, and begun three trials.
But he has also been criticised because of the ICC's slow progress in achieving results, and for failing to bring a larger number of senior government officials to trial for various atrocities.
Academic David Kaye wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine recently that the ICC head needed to conclude trials, convince governments to arrest fugitives, conduct credible investigations in difficult places such as Libya and Sudan, and expand the ICC's reach beyond Africa.
Cayley, a British national, previously worked with Moreno-Ocampo at the ICC investigating crimes in Sudan's Darfur region. At the Khmer Rouge tribunal, he raised concerns about alleged political interference in the court.
Othman was a senior adviser at the United Nations Development Program and chief of prosecutions at the Rwanda tribunal, while Petit was previously a co-prosecutor at Cambodia's Khmer Rouge court.
(Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block and Sara Webb; Editing by Louise Ireland and Belinda Goldsmith)