Luis Moreno-Ocampo: Seeking Global Justice

Luis Moreno-Ocampo
Luis Moreno-Ocampo is sworn in as chief prosecuter at the International Criminal Court, June 16 (Photo: AFP/Getty Images).

Unanimously elected the first chief prosecutor of the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo will decide on the first case to go to trial.

“I deeply hope that the horrors humanity has suffered during the 20th century will serve us as a painful lesson,” Ocampo said in his acceptance speech, “and that the court will help prevent those atrocities from being repeated.” It won’t be an easy undertaking.

Renowned as an independent human-rights lawyer and prosecutor who fought corruption, Ocampo, 51, rose to prominence as a 33-year-old assistant prosecutor during the spectacular trials in 1985 of former officers of Argentina’s notorious military junta. He was praised for his courage and integrity.

Ever since, he has been eager to take on the rich and powerful. But he has also been accused of opportunism and criticized for his close relations with former presidents Raúl Alfonsín and Carlos Saúl Menem.

According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Reinhard Müller, the media-savvy Ocampo “sometimes seems to stand above things and radiates a grim determination.” He enjoys the limelight and has defended such prominent figures as the soccer player Diego Maradonna. He starred in a TV reality show, Argentina’s version of “Judge Judy,” and he was the first lawyer to film corrupt politicians with a hidden camera for an investigative TV show. Ocampo studied law in Buenos Aires, financing his studies by running a small furniture workshop. In 1987, he became Buenos Aires’ chief state prosecutor.

The ICC was adopted in 1998 under the Rome Statute, which gave it jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, as the first permanent, independent tribunal since the Nuremberg trials following World War II. The ICC’s first criminal case, however, possibly from Colombia or the Congo, is still months away.

Ocampo’s performance will determine whether the ICC will be perceived as fair and impartial. He might even succeed in alleviating the suspicions of the U.S. government, which has rejected the court’s authority because of concerns of politically motivated trials.

“We must learn that there is no safe haven for life and freedom if we fail to protect the rights of any person in any country of the world,” Ocampo said during the swearing-in ceremony. “If we destroy the hopes and increase the misunderstandings, not only will we have failed as individuals but we also will have...destroyed an institution essential to global peace.”