Elizabeth Odio Benito
Elizabeth Odio Benito
|Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia|
|2nd Vice-President of the International Criminal Court|
|Judge of the International Criminal Court|
2003 - 2012
|Judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights|
|Born||15 September 1939|
|Alma mater||University of Costa Rica National University of Costa Rica|
Elizabeth Odio Benito (born 15 September 1939) is a judge and the current President in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (tenure 2016-2021). She is the first woman to hold this position. She was a Vice-President of the International Criminal Court. She previously served as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and in her home country of Costa Rica was twice appointed Justice Minister, later becoming Vice-President of the Republic. Her background is as an academic lawyer, specialising in the administration of justice and human rights, in particular the rights of women.
Although born in Puntarenas, the first child of Emiliano Odio Madrigal and Esperanza Benito Ibañez, most of her early life was spent in San José, where she attended the Colegio Superior de Señoritas. The law was something of a tradition on her father's side of the family; Odio Benito was particularly encouraged by her lawyer uncle, Ulises Odio Santos, to study that subject. She graduated with a master's degree from the University of Costa Rica in 1964, where she remained for much of her academic career, rising to a full professorship in 1986 and Vice-President for Academic Affairs in 1988. During this period, she began to work in the field of gender studies, with an emphasis on crimes committed against women.
Meanwhile, Odio Benito was becoming increasingly involved in the administration of justice. From 1976 to 1978 she served as Secretary to the Colegio de Abogados, the bar association of Costa Rica, and in 1978 was appointed to the joint offices of Minister of Justice and Attorney General, which she held until 1982 when the National Liberation Party took the presidency. In 1990 she returned for another four-year term as Minister of Justice, under President Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier. The peak of her domestic political career came in 1998, with her election as Second Vice-President alongside President Miguel Ángel Rodríguez and First Vice-President Astrid Fischel Volio; during this time she was also Minister for the Environment and Energy.
Odio Benito's involvement in international justice began during her second ministerial term, with her 1993 appointment as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. This was the first time she had sat as a judge, a fact for which she has been criticised by some of the tribunal participants. A major contribution during these proceedings was Odio Benito's successful effort to have rape and other sexual assaults considered as torture. Her interpretation, based on a case of two Serbian women raped in the ?elebi?i detention camp, is now an accepted principle of international law.
In 1998 Odio Benito left ICTY as a consequence of becoming Vice-President, but she continued to play an active role in related areas of the law. Most notably, she was president of the United Nations working group that drew up the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.  This additional treaty, open to any State that is party to the main UN Convention Against Torture anti-torture Convention, allows for international and independent national experts to visit any prison, detention camp, or similar facility, speak in private with people held there, and make recommendations to authorities aimed at preventing torture or other abuse from being practiced there. The Optional Protocol entered into force on 22 June 2006. As of 31 January 2007 it had 32 State Parties with a further 31 States have signed but not yet ratified the Protocol.
Odio Benito's election to the International Criminal Court was not without controversy. Her candidacy had initially been sponsored by Costa Rica, but President Abel Pacheco withdrew support without explanation. Since they are members of the same political party, there may be any number of reasons why the President would seek to undermine her. It has been suggested by the anti-abortion movement that Odio Benito's permissive stance on abortion motivated Pacheco to move against her . In any case, various women's groups mobilised to campaign for her readmittance. She was eventually renominated by Panama, whose then president, Mireya Moscoso, is another noted activist for women's rights. Odio Benito was thus the only candidate not to be sponsored by her own nation. Nevertheless, she was elected in the first out of thirty-three rounds of voting, indicating strong support from the States Parties.
The ICC officially opened on 11 March 2003, with Elizabeth Odio Benito as Second Vice-President.
When the International Criminal Court sentenced Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga to 14 years in prison in July 2012 for using child soldiers in his rebel army in 2002 and 2003 - the first sentence imposed by the court in its history -, Odio Benito disagreed with her two fellow judges and in a dissenting opinion said that 15 years would have been more appropriate given the harm done to the victims and their families, particularly due to harsh punishments and sexual violence against the UPC's child soldiers.
Los crimenes de violencia sexual en el derecho internacional penal de los siglos XX y XXI (El nuevo orden jurídico internacional a partir de 1945 y su ausencia de perspectiva de genero) in the Lecture Series of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law