Q&A With Former ICC Prosecutor Christine Chung
The American Lawyer
The Litigation Daily tends to steer away from film recommendations, but a documentary about the International Criminal Court, airing on PBS on Tuesday, should be worth your while. "The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court" follows ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and his team for three years as they issue arrest warrants for Lord's Resistance Army leaders in Uganda, put Congolese warlords on trial and charge Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. A central figure in the film is Christine Chung, an American lawyer who was one of the first three senior trial attorneys at the ICC. We caught up with her by phone on Friday afternoon at her office at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, where she has worked since leaving the ICC in 2007.
LIT DAILY: Hi Christine, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. How did you come to be one of the first trial attorneys at the ICC?
CHUNG: At the time when I was leaving [the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan], the chief prosecutor had just been elected. He was teaching at Harvard at the time. I had read about the court, but figured he was probably not so interested in having an American lawyer on board, given that the U.S. government was so opposed to the court at the time. I called him and asked if he would be interested in having someone with my background on his team, and he encouraged me to apply. I got hired in the first round, along with a British and a German lawyer.
LD: How did being a federal prosecutor prepare you for investigating cases for the ICC?
CHUNG: Maybe half way. The American prosecutorial system is very sophisticated, but [the ICC rules] were very different. I had to learn a whole new set of substantive and procedural rules. I had to learn a new governing text. The court itself was new. We often said it was like building an airplane and flying it at the same time. We had to hire translators and hire investigators. It was a brick-by-brick process.
LD: What would you describe as your greatest personal triumph at the ICC?
CHUNG: For most of us it was getting the court up and running in what people perceive as a credible way. In part because of U.S. opposition, and other reasons, there was some belief that we would try and fail. Today, it's a viable institution.
LD: The best known action of the ICC was the indictment of Sudan leader Omar al-Bashir on war crimes charges. What did that mean for the ICC?
CHUNG: Charging Bashir was two milestones. For one, the United Nations security counsel referred the case to the court, which is a real achievement in terms of credibility. Second, he was the first sitting head of state to be prosecuted by the court in connection with one of the worst crimes in the world.
LD: What did you want the filmmakers, and eventually the viewers, to understand about the work of the ICC?
CHUNG: We wanted them to understand how it works. We wanted them to understand the rules, the kinds of crimes the court will investigate and prosecute. We saw this as a vehicle to let the world know that the ICC is not just a concept, but is a reality.
LD: What do you think of the finished film?
CHUNG: It's amazing. They take a complicated legal story and convert it into a compelling narrative. The filmmakers call it a legal thriller, but it's a little more geeky than that. Lawyers, especially, find it fascinating. You're really watching the frontier of the law. You wonder as you are watching, will it work? You can see the thing shudder off the ground to lift off.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.