José Luís Moreno-Ocampo stepped down as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier this month after nine years in the post. In 2003, he was appointed the first prosecutor of the world’s first permanent international criminal tribunal in the hope of bringing justice to the world. As he left office, Moreno-Ocampo spoke to RNW’s José Zepeda about the court’s successes and its limitations.
by José Zepeda, The Hague
Important countries like Russia, China and the United States are not signatories to the International Criminal Court. Doesn’t that mean that international justice has failed?
No, on the contrary all it does is show that it is something completely new, so new in fact that major countries cannot join it, dare not join it. The biggest countries protect their interests with powerful armed forces. To them, the idea that they might be investigated for war crimes is complicated. Smaller countries protect themselves with the law. South America has learned the importance of the law. That is why they use it. So it is really the other way around. The fact that the biggest countries dare not join is proof that we are a serious institution.
That Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was indicted for crimes against humanity against his own population in Darfur and still went on to visit five countries seems to be a problem for the ICC…
Not to the ICC. Enforcing the law across the world is new, it’s never been done before. The most difficult thing to do is to arrest a head of state. Omar al-Bashir only travels to countries that are under no obligation to arrest him. And there are just a few of them. He was unable to travel to South Africa for the inauguration of Jacob Zuma. They moved the African Union, because Malawi is opposed to the presence of Bashir. He cannot travel to Uganda. In Kenya, the courts have decided he must be arrested if he travels there.
So he is a president on the run. He can travel to some places, but he is still a fugitive. The arrest of President Bashir is merely a matter of time. Do you know how many people were put on trial by the Yugoslavia Tribunal? 161. And how many people are still on the run? What do you think: 50 percent, 20 percent? Not a single one! It took 18 years, but they were all arrested. It is simply a matter of time.
So it is possible that those who started a war in Iraq based on what we now know were lies will never stand trial, that justice will never be passed on Guantánamo or that those who caused Chechnya to descend into chaos will remain free?
Yes that is possible. Impunity has always been the norm. So it’s very well possible that the pessimists will be proved right. We want to change that. It is incredible simply that we have an ICC. Much has changed in nine years. In the beginning everybody thought nobody would take notice. Later, they said: “Fine, it’s okay if they handle a few insignificant cases.” Three heads of state were tried during my mandate. One was arrested, one died and one is still in his post. The world is making progress.
The ICC is often criticized in the media for focusing on nothing but Africa...
The media do not understand the problems. This is an invention of President Bashir. When we indicted him for genocide he said it was aimed at all Africans. It’s unbelievable: instead of asking themselves why there is no end to the genocide in Darfur, they wonder: why Africa? Image that in 1946 we would ask ourselves: why Germany? That is where the genocide took place. That’s why!
Journalists should think a little harder. Global communication is complicated and journalists who do not have much time copy the argument of President Bashir. It is like the concept of ‘victor’s justice’.” Do you know who came up with that? Herman Göring. Göring said that during the Nuremberg trial. “The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused.” And now everybody is repeating it.
In the spring of 2011, The UN Security Council spoke out in favour of the protection of civilians to facilitate the ICC’s activities in Libya. However, after Gadafi’s death, the Security Council left the ICC to its own devices.
There is no problem whatsoever in Libya. The Security Council supports the ICC. The new Libyan government says: “We heartily thank you for the timely intervention but we now want to administer justice ourselves.” And now we are facing the interesting problem that two different institutions want to put Said Gadafi on trial: Libya’s national court and the ICC. You can safely say that the Security Council also takes contradictory decisions: it accepted Libya as a case, but not other cases such as Syria or the Palestinian issue. But that’s just the way things are.
Libya is a complicated case which has only just begun. We have laid the foundation: we exposed Gadafi’s crimes when he was still in power. This was really important to protect the Libyan people, they were victorious because they wanted to be victorious. They told me: “We were in Misrata and we were being bombed and then you issued your warrant...it changed our lives.” The warrants for the arrest of Said Gadafi and Abdalá al Sanusi were decisive in the Libyan conflict. Now they are under arrest. We have gone from a situation of crimes against humanity to the highly complicated situation we find ourselves in today. That’s progress!
Your plans for the future? Some people say you might become president.
No! I will never become a politician. Never. Besides, I used to be better known in my country than I am today. I have been gone from Argentina for 10 years. But I do feel I have a responsibility. On the one hand I see problems such as those with the Somali pirates or crimes related to the drug trade in Mexico and Colombia. We need new approaches and I want to help. I want to promote education about these subjects at primary schools and secondary schools across the globe. In The Hague we try to stimulate educational projects about peace and the administration of justice. I think I’ll be working as a lawyer for 50 percent [of my time] and pro bono on cases that I find worth my while for the other 50.