PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Reine Adélaïde Alapini-Gansou
Judge, International Criminal Court, The Hague
By Maame Efua Addadzi-Koom
Reine Adélaïde Sophie Alapini-Gansou, is the first Beninese woman to serve on the bench of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire on 11 August 1956, she is the fourth of six siblings. She is married to Professor Magloire Grégoire Gansou, a Beninese Psychiatrist and member of the University of Medicine with whom she has four children. She is also the mother of 2 adoptive children. Alapini-Gansou started her primary education in 1963 in Libreville, Gabon, where her father worked as a surveyor. When her parents returned to Dahomey (Benin today), she attended the Catholic School of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Ouidah in 1968, where she completed her primary studies. She then continued her studies at the Catholic Cours Secondaire Sainte Jeanne d'Arc d’Abomey where she received her first-cycle diploma in 1974.
At her eldest sister’s request, Alapini-Gansou proceeded to finish her secondary education at the Lycée Mathieu Bouké in Parakou, a popular school in northern Benin. There, she obtained her Baccalaureate in Literature in 1978. She completed her military service in 1981 whilst also studying law at the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences, National University of Benin. She defended her master’s thesis in Business Law and Judicial Careers in 1983 at the same university. Judge Alapini-Gansou holds an advanced diploma in Environmental Law and Policy from the Universities of Maastricht (Netherlands), Bhutan, and Lomé (Togo). She also holds a Diploma in Common Law for business from the University of Lyon in France.
On 4 December 1986, Alapini-Gansou was admitted to the bar in Benin and has since been involved in issues relating to human rights. Through her work at the Women’s Legal Aid Center of the WiILDAF network from 2000 to 2005, Alapini-Gansou provided legal and judicial assistance to many in various courts and tribunals in Benin. She was also a lawyer for the Association Avocats sans Frontières (ASF) (Association of Lawyers without Borders) as part of the "Justice for All in Rwanda" project in 2001. It was also in 2001 that her career in teaching and research began at the Faculty of Law and Political Science and the Faculty of Health Sciences at University of Abomey-Calavi. She has authored a number of academic publications.
From 2005 to 2017, she was a Commissioner of the African Commission on the Human and Peoples’ Rights. She served as the president of the Commission from 2009 to 2011. Her mandate as president, among other things, included chairing the joint group of special procedures of the United Nations and the African Commission. She served as a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa at three different periods in 2005, 2007 to 2012 and in 2017. As special rapporteur, Alapini-Gansou worked to strengthen the capacity of civil society actors and the synergy amongst human rights defenders in Africa. During her tenure, she introduced innovative tools such as the rapporteur's letter, communications procedure, and urgent appeals to the African Commission as measures for protecting human rights defenders. She has launched several studies and guidelines on topical issues including the rights of female defenders, freedom of association and human rights and terrorism.
In 2012, she was appointed a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration of the United Nations in The Hague. A year later, Alapini-Gansou established the Fondation défenseurs d’Afrique FDDA (Foundation Defenders of Africa) with the support of the African Human Rights Defenders’ Network. Alapini-Gansou was inspired to create the foundation through her observation of the sufferings of, and lack of attention for human rights defenders. Consequently, the foundation offers services to human rights defenders who are at risk in Africa and the world. Her vision for the foundation is that it remains a crucible where human rights defenders will heal and receive strength to keep fighting for human rights.
Alapini-Gansou was a member of the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry on the post-election violence in Côte d'Ivoire from April to June 2011. She served as the head of the Human Rights Component of the International African Support Mission in Mali (MISMA) and for MISAHEL from 2013 to 2014. From 2016 to 2017, she was a member of the Mission of Inquiry on human rights violations in Burundi. Her work in these missions exposed her to the realities of the poor and other dimensions of human rights especially in conflict and post-conflict situations in Africa. During her mission as head of the human rights observers’ component in Mali, she stated that ‘political actors must at all times integrate into their debates the interests and rights of populations who remain the innocent victims of their conflicts and who pay the heavy price.’
In 2015, Alapini-Gansou was registered on the International Criminal Court's list of counsel until she was elected as a judge of the court in 2017 – a position she holds till date. Since 9 March 2018, when she was sworn into office, Alapini-Gansou has been serving as a judge in the Pre-Trial and Trial Chambers. As one who supports transparent and fair justice, she says, ‘whenever it is a question of saying the law and dispensing justice, for me the bet is a little won; knowing that in matters of human rights and international criminal justice there is always something to be done as long as the wheel of history is turning’. Alapini-Gansou is mindful of the role of the ICC to intervene where States have been unable or unwilling to render justice to widows, orphans and to populations in general who may be direct or collateral victims. While giving herself fully to her current position, Alapini-Gansou remains strongly attached to her origins and the African continent. She has travelled all over her home country, Benin to assist with projects on educating voters, combating violence against women and girls, training paralegals, and combating sexual harassment among others. She has also carried out fact-finding, protection and promotion missions in human rights in more than 45 countries across the African continent.
Alapini-Gansou’s commitment to her work has earned her certificates from around the world, including from the International Development Law Organization in Rome, Italy; International Criminal Justice Law; the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, the René Cassin Institute, to mention a few. She also has membership in a number of national and international organizations including the National Commission for Codification and Legislation in Benin, the International Criminal Bar, the International Association of Defence Lawyers, the Women Lawyers of Benin, the Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF) and AFJB (Female Lawyers association of Benin). She has acted in her capacity as an expert and consultant for the United Nations in particular UNAIDS and WHO on a number of occasions. She has also demonstrated leadership by anchoring the ABDD (Benin Association for Development Law) in human rights activities associated with HIV issues. As a result of her leadership, the ABDD has had several collaborations with international organisations such as UNAIDS, Plan International and OCAL/ALCO. She handed over her leadership position with the ABDD in 2016.
Alapini-Gansou’s efforts over the years have been recognized and honored. In 2010, she received the Human Rights Prize during the 15th anniversary of African Independence in Sorbonne, Paris, France. Again in 2012, she won the Human Rights Prize during the 25th anniversary of the African Commission on Rights and Peoples in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire. Alapini-Gansou’s areas of expertise are in the areas of International Human Rights Law, Criminal Law and International Criminal Justice, Commercial Law and Development Law, Environmental Law, and Alternative Dispute Resolution. Based on her expertise in alternative dispute resolution, she worked for the creation of the Arbitration Centre of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Benin.
Her publications include:
• De l’article 64 à l’article 122-1 du code pénal : une reforme à mi-chemin ; Paru à la revue annuelle de l’assistance en santé mentale en Afrique « Réalités Africaines» 1999; [From Article 64 to Article 122-1 of the Penal Code: a midway reform; Published in the annual review of mental health assistance in Africa "African Realities" 1999].
• Aspects Psycho pathologique du viol en Afrique: Cas du BENIN et du CONGO [Psycho-pathological Aspects of Rape in Africa: Case of BENIN and CONGO].
• Le code des personnes et de la famille du Benin à l’épreuve de l’application. (2012) [Benin's Personal and Family Code put to the test of implementation.].
• L’homicide au Benin 2015 [Homicide in Benin].
• Le rôle du législateur dans la mise en œuvre du statut de Rome 2016 [The role of the legislator in the implementation of the Rome Statute 2016].
• L’adoption au Benin une alternative de filiation 2016 [The adoption in Benin, an alternative of filiation 2016]
• La responsabilité des Etats en matière de violences sexuelles en Afrique 2016 [State Responsibility for Sexual Violence in Africa 2016].
Author interviews with Reini Alapini-Gansou via electronic communication in April, 2020
Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC). Candidate questionnaires. Available at Accessed April 28, 2020.