by José Zepeda on 01 Jul 2012 | Comments
After nine years as Public Prosecutor, José Luís Moreno Ocampo said goodbye to the International Criminal Court (ICC) this week. In 2003, he was appointed the first public prosecutor of a court that was to bring justice to the world. In his last interview on the job he looks back on all the criticism and looks ahead with optimism.
RNW: Important countries like Russia, China and the United States refuse to sign up to the International Criminal Court. Does 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’s actually the other way around. The fact that the biggest countries dare not join proves we are a serious institution.”
RNW: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was indicted for crimes against humanity, against his own population in Darfur, and yet he went on to visit five countries, isn’t that a problem for the ICC…
“Enforcing the law across the world is new. Arresting a head of state is the most difficult thing. Omar al-Bashir can only travel to countries that are under no obligation to arrest him. He was unable to travel to South Africa for the inauguration of Jacob Zuma. The African Union was moved, because Malawi is opposed to the presence of Bashir. He cannot travel to Uganda. He’ll be arrested if he travels to Kenya. So he is a president on the run. The arrest of President Bashir is merely a matter of time.
A hundred and sixty-one people were put on trial by the Yugoslavia Tribunal. Not a single one is still on the run! It took 18 years, but they were all arrested.”
RNW: Is it possible that those who started a war in Iraq based on lies will never stand trial; that justice will never be passed on Guantánamo; that the oppressors of Tibet will never be convicted, or those who caused Chechnya to descend into chaos?
“Yes that is possible. Impunity has always been the norm. So it’s quite possible that the pessimists will be proven right. In fact, it is just incredible that we have an ICC at all. But a lot has changed in nine years. In the beginning, people thought no-one would take any notice. Later, they said: ‘Okay, handle a few insignificant cases.’ During my time, three heads of state have been indicted. One was arrested, one died and one is still in office. The world is making progress.”
RNW: The media often criticises the ICC for focussing too much on Africa.
“The media do not understand the problem. President Bashir has turned it around. We indict him for genocide and he says the ICC is against all Africans. It’s unbelievable: we should be asking ourselves why there is no end to the genocide in Darfur. Instead we wonder: why Africa. Imagine us asking ourselves: why Germany – in 1946? It’s because that is where the genocide took place!
Journalists should think a little harder. Global communication is complicated and journalists - who are short of time - just copy President Bashir’s arguments. It is like the concept of ‘victor’s justice’. Do you know who came up with that? Herman Göring. During the Nuremberg trial, Göring said, ‘The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused.’ And now everybody repeats him.”
RNW: A second point of criticism is that the prosecutor should provide more information.
“This is a valid point. I think we should reflect on how we communicate. The video Kony 2012 was viewed by 100 million people in six days. That shows that effective communication is possible. A journalist would say: ‘That’s only logical, because the video explains what happened to a four-year-old child.’ Maybe that’s what is needed. Journalists think they’re experts, but they are not. Global communication is a complex phenomenon. Who is my target audience. My main objective is to apply the law. I help journalists, but I’m not responsible for communication!”
RNW: 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. You immediately took action, examined the situation, conducted research and issued warrants. However, after Gaddafi’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 situation that two different institutions want to put Said Gaddafi on trial: Libya’s national court and the ICC.
Libya is a complicated case which has only just begun. We have laid the foundation: we exposed Gaddafi’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 Gaddafi 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 complex situation we find ourselves in today. That’s progress!”
RNW: 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 left Argentina 10 years ago. But I do feel a responsibility. I see problems such as those with the Somalian pirates or the 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 in schools all over the world. In The Hague, we try to stimulate educational projects about peace and the administration of justice. I think I’ll continue working as a lawyer for half my time and pro bono on cases that I find worth my while for the other half.”
RNW: You were talking about organised crime, the drug trade, a theme that affects the entire region, but above all Mexico. A new approach?
“A cross-border approach. You cannot crack down on organised crime at national level. The president of Guatemala told me: ‘We knew that the Mexican drug cartels had arrived because they killed 300 people in two days. We cannot bring them under control. And even if we could, they would move on to the next country, Honduras.’ That is why we must tackle the issue at using a cross-border approach, including the countries which receive the drugs, the countries where the drugs are used, the countries that supply the weapons…”
RNW: The United States?
“Sometimes the weapons are bought on the Mexican border. I recently visited Mexico and met Interior Minister Francisco Blake who was killed in a car accident one week after my visit (November 2011). He told me something really important. ‘In the 1980s Mexico denied the drug problem. We thought it was a Colombian problem, that they passed through Mexico but continued on to the US, that was a serious problem. But now it is really difficult to end this.’
It is a fight against groups of organised criminals, sometimes 12-year-olds who have already killed more than 30 people, who believe they have just a few more years to live. We cannot deny the problem of organised crime. Organised crime knows no borders. It is a global problem.”