I’m sitting with Luis Moreno Ocampo in an uptown Manhattan conference room. Ocampo is framed by his press secretary and bodyguard. Otherwise the large room is empty. With both hands, Ocampo delicately slides my recording device towards him on the gleaming mahogany table. He leans over it intently, as if he were examining evidence.
To many, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, is known simply as ‘The Prosecutor.’ His mission at the ICC is not unlike that of a superhero: to seek out the world’s most notorious evildoers, and obtain justice for their crimes. With active cases in six of the world’s most deadly conflicts, and arrest warrants for two sitting heads of states, Ocampo has presided over the launch of the first major global institution of the 21st century, and the most ambitious international legal project in the history of mankind.
Like other caped crusaders, there are movies about ‘The Prosecutor.’ The latest, Prosecutor, by Canadian filmmaker Barry Stevens, has brought Ocampo from the United Nations for the film’s opening night at New York’sPaley DocFest. Prosecutor follows Ocampo as he visits war-torn communities, negotiates with heads of state, coaches his legal team on how to behave in the courtroom, and strolls introspectively through the misty cobblestone streets of The Hague. The prosecutor’s quest for justice looks glamorous at points: he even gets to wear a costume, a kind of cape in the form of the legal robes of the ICC. The opening scene of the movie shows him disembarking from a UN helicopter and striding towards a dusty, remote African village, wearing a white linen suit.
But unlike the Justice Brigade, Ocampo’s fights aren’t just with super-villains. As the first person to ever hold the position of chief prosecutor at the ICC, Ocampo has had the daunting task of convincing the world that an idea, a hope, can become a reality: that a permanent, independent criminal court could have universal jurisdiction for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
From day one, the prosecutor has had to battle for this idea at every turn, and field attacks from almost every side. The Court survived the Bush administration’s harsh policies, which forbade other countries from cooperating with the Court, threatening to stop suspend foreign military aid to those that would not conform. And the African Union has come to balk at the Court’s perceived agenda to only prosecute Africans. Prominent human rights NGOs are still criticizing the Court for not doing enough. In Prosecutor, we see Ocampo come under fire from a BBC anchor for the length of time and money it has taken to set up the Court, which, to this day, has yet to convict a single suspect.
A new prosecutor will be selected by the Assembly of States Parties of the ICC come December, and I’m eager to ask Ocampo about how he feels as his term as prosecutor draws to a close. Ocampo, though, stays steadily focused on process, portraying a decisive, albeit weary confidence in the slow progress the institution has made along the way. Despite some characteristic eccentricities and the glare of the public spotlight, he is eager to deflect personal questions back to the Court itself.
It seems then that the film, Prosecutor, is appropriately named: unlike Ocampo’s superhero moniker, ‘The Prosecutor’, whatever contribution Ocampo has made, the heroic arc in this story isn’t found in one man’s journey, but in the world’s quest for justice, embodied by the extraordinary global accomplishment of the ICC.
Hannah Dunphy for IJCentral: Tell me about this film, Prosecutor. Why do you think people should see it? Luis Moreno Ocampo: The movie gets people to understand there is an institution that is working to do justice for the worst crimes, and for the victims. There are 2.4 billion citizens in 118 states parties of the Rome Statute, so we are working for them. So, how can I reach them? I need a movie. I hope that some of them see the movie. Interestingly, movies can help [people] to understand what happened, you know? The Nuremburg trial was very important but people changed their mind with the movie about the Nuremburg trial. IJC: Let’s talk about some of the cases before the Court. Libya has been in the news, and as of today, Colonel Qaddafi is still at large. What do you say to the NTC (National Transitional Council) when they make statements about putting Gaddafi on trial in Libya? LMO: Today, the only arrest warrant for Qaddafi has been issued by the International Criminal Court. There is no arrest warrant from a national judge in Libya. Eventually, if they have a case in Libya, they should present the case and the judges of the ICC will decide. But today, the only case is in the ICC. IJC: Do you think the justice system as it exists today in Libya would have the capacity to try someone like Qaddafi?
LMO: We’ll see, I don’t know. We don’t like to predict. IJC: The Kenyan case is just getting started, and last week there was a lot of attention paid to the start of the confirmation of charges hearings. As the first case initiated through propio motu, do you feel more personally connected to seeing justice in the Kenyan case?
LMO: Kenya is important not because it’s propio motu. Kenya is important because there was massive violence, and the crimes were committed by political leaders to gain or retain political power. And the risk is that they could do the same in the coming election in 2012. So that’s why the investigations in Kenya are critically important to justice for Kenyans, and also to start building Kenya, so it’s critically important for Africa. And to also send a message: you cannot commit atrocities to gain or retain power. That’s the importance of the Kenyan case. And for Kenyans, I think it’s incredibly interesting for them to see their leaders in the dock, answering questions, trying to explain what happened. I think that’s really important. IJC: With the General Assembly in session, the question of Palestinian statehood and the ICC is on everyone’s minds. I know that OTP- your offices- had looked into alleged crimes in Gaza. Do you plan to issue any kind of report of your findings in the way that the OTP had done for Colombia and Afghanistan?
LMO: In Palestine, what we are doing is reviewing if they are a state- according to the Rome Statute, to accept jurisdiction. We are discussing this with the Palestinians. Now the issue is also discussing with the Security Council or maybe the General Assembly, so the issue will probably be solved there. What we did in the past two years was receive briefings from Palestine and discuss with them, and many, many other actors who are involved in the debate about if the Court should recognize statehood to accept jurisdiction or not. IJC: So the issue of statehood would have to be resolved before you issued any kind of statement on alleged crimes in Palestine.
LMO: Yes. IJC: I think most people would say that you were an incredibly instrumental figure in getting this institution to where it is today. As your term comes to a close, are there things that you look back on that you regret? Is there anything you would have done differently if you knew then what you know now about being the Prosecutor of the ICC?
LMO: When I arrived, I was thinking that my responsibility was to build an institution, and I should do it through selecting the best people I can, defining [policies] clearly, explaining what we are doing to states, NGOs, the international community and to citizens, and then, doing the job. That’s what we did. And we learned by walking. But what I can say is that the Court is working on exactly the type of crimes it was created for, and also keeping consensus about the Court, because the Court has no frivolous cases, and the Court is focused on the most responsible individuals. And I hope they know that we’re close in the first trial! For me, it was important to finish some trials. I was thinking that I would finish my trials two years ago but – OK- it will be this year. But we are finishing trials and then we are going to a next phase, including reparations, [inaudible], and this conviction of Lubanga [will help with] educational programs around the world to ensure there are no more child soldiers. So basically I feel we put the system in motion, and I will give it to my successor [working]. So I feel… I leave my piece, and I pass it on. IJC: What do you think is important for the next prosecutor to be able to do for the Court?
LMO: Whether it’s a “her” or “him,” I don’t know- there will be new challenges. I finish on June 16, 2012 and then, new prosecutor, new challenges, new decisions. IJC: What’s next for you after you finish?
LMO: Let me finish this first, and then we can talk!