Brave Thinkers 2011 November 2011

Luis Moreno-Ocampo

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Chief prosecutor, International Criminal Court
The Hague, The Netherlands

A hard-charging prosecutor is working fast and aiming big to put the idea of international justice on sure footing.

When Argentina’s Luis Moreno-Ocampo began work as the first prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in 2003, he had a few staff members, a gaggle of interns, and a superpower, the United States, that feared the court was out to politicize international justice.

Eight years later, the ICC has issued arrest warrants for two heads of state, earned the confidence of the United Nations Security Council, and largely won over Washington.

This year, determined to respond to conflicts in real time, Moreno-Ocampo steered the ICC toward the center of events in Libya. His request for arrest warrants for Muammar Qaddafi, his son Saif, and his intelligence chief came just three months after the UN Security Council gave him jurisdiction—a lightning-fast response, by the standards of international justice. Last year, Moreno-Ocampo brought charges against politicians in Kenya for inciting ethnic violence.

Brave Thinkers 2011Moreno-Ocampo attracts plenty of critics. African governments argue that the prosecutor has eyes only for African crimes. Why, they demand, has the ICC not opened a single investigation outside their continent? In 2008, the court secretly issued an arrest warrant for Jean-Pierre Bemba, a Congolese warlord, and then had him seized. That same year, Moreno-Ocampo ignored the admonitions of nervous diplomats and sought a warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The African Union has advised its members that they are not obliged to heed the court’s arrest warrants.

Close observers charge that Moreno-Ocampo is a poor manager who enjoys the limelight a bit too much and speaks a bit too freely. Even as he has confronted despots and warlords, the prosecutor has jousted with some of the court’s judges and with employees. The court has been beset by delays—not a single case has been completed.

Despite his faults and the overreach he flirts with, Moreno-Ocampo has put a fragile new institution on the map. When his term ends next year, he will hand over an office that still faces formidable challenges. But being relevant will not be one of them.

Image: Valerie Kuypers/AFP/Getty Images

Presented by

David Bosco is an assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service and a contributing editor at Foreign Policy.

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