After nine years as the face of the International Criminal Court—formative years for the world’s first permanent international tribunal created in 2002—Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s tenure as chief prosecutor ends today. With one conviction complete and 14 more cases currently pending, Moreno-Ocampo established a legacy of addressing impunity whether for a field commander or a head of state, chipping away at the aura of invincibility that often accompanies the world’s most notorious war criminals. His capable, long-time deputy Fatou Bensouda now takes up the responsibility of leading the court’s investigative and prosecutorial arm.
As the head of the prosecution, Moreno-Ocampo pursued cases against, most famously, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, longtime LRA leader Joseph Kony, the alleged orchestrators of Kenya’s post-election violence, and former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Despite the court’s constricting inability to execute arrest warrants, the ICC has worked behind-the-scenes with national authorities to apprehend former Cote d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo after his long and bloody post-election standoff, former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, and a Rwandan militia member accused of instigating atrocities in eastern Congo. Several other less prominent trials and investigations are proceeding and setting important precedent for the new court.
Moreno-Ocampo has been the counterpoint to the stodgy reserve one might expect from an international legal body of black robe-clad jurists. Throughout his tenure he regularly spoke to the media, appeared in documentaries, and participated in public events. Not everyone appreciated his activism or attention-generating ways, but Moreno-Ocampo knew what he said—and how he said it—would be news worthy, and he used his ability to make headlines to raise awareness about the court and what it stands for.
American filmmaker Paco de Onis produced the documentary “The Reckoning” and benefited from the chief prosecutor’s eagerness to promote the court. “Aside from getting the court in motion and opening cases against high officials like al-Bashir, the Kenyan leaders, and Laurent Gbagbo, Moreno-Ocampo was brilliant at bringing the ICC to the world's attention and urging citizens around the world to support this new court in the push for universal ratification,” de Onis told the Enough Project. “He was very smart about allowing filmmakers like us into the ICC, to tell the story.”
While the ICC’s initial cases primarily focused on past crimes or atrocities already years underway, Moreno-Ocampo has pushed for the court to have relevance in real time, to serve as a deterrent and prevent the spread of violence. Last year, Libya gave the ICC its chance. Just three months after receiving the jurisdiction from the U.N. Security Council to investigate crimes against humanity being committed by government forces, Moreno-Ocampo requested arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son, and the military intelligence chief, which were granted in June 2011—a “lightning-fast response, by the standards of international justice.”
In Kenya, the ICC case against four leaders accused of orchestrating crimes against humanity, including the deputy prime minister, came too late to deter atrocities following the contested 2007 election. But the fates of the “Ocampo Four” are increasingly in the spotlight with the country set to hold its next elections in early 2013.
"Moreno-Ocampo has helped place the issue of accountability for war crimes front and center on the international radar screen,” said Enough Co-founder John Prendergast. “He at times single-handedly made it impossible for governments to pretend they didn't know. He has laid a solid foundation for his successor, who is without question the most qualified person in the world to succeed Moreno-Ocampo."
With nearly eight years’ experience as the deputy chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda was sworn in to the top post today pledging to “be the Prosecutor of all the 121 States Parties, acting in full independence and impartiality.” She expressed particular gratitude to the African Union for supporting her candidacy, a nod to the fraught ties between the institutions that Bensouda has made a point of working to repair. With 11 arrest warrants outstanding, it’s one of many challenges that lay ahead for the new chief prosecutor. But along with the continuity Bensouda brings to her new role, she also noted plans for a fresh approach, committing to give further attention to gender crimes and crimes against children.
“[W]e should not be guided by the words and propaganda of a few influential individuals whose sole aim is to evade justice but – rather – we should focus on, and listen to the millions of victims who continue to suffer from massive crimes,” Bensouda said in her first remarks as chief prosecutor. “The return on our investment for what others may today consider to be a huge cost for justice is effective deterrence and saving millions of victims’ lives.”
Photo: Fatou Bensouda is sworn in as chief prosecutor (ICC)