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Luis Moreno Ocampo faces a daunting task. As the first prosecutor of the nascent International Criminal Court, it’s his job to seek justice for the victims of the unimaginable: genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Some 78 countries supporting the ICC elected Ocampo last week. A visiting professor at Harvard Law School and well-respected in Washington foreign policy circles, he is seen by many as an excellent choice for a difficult job. Ocampo’s challenges are legion. Although given a powerful mandate, there are strict limits to his jurisdiction. He can initiate investigations, but he can bring charges only if individual countries are unable or unwilling to do so. And he can prosecute only those crimes committed after July 1, 2002, the official date of the court’s inception. Magnifying the difficulty is the hostility the court faces from the United States. Last May, the U.S. government withdrew from the treaty that created the ICC. Citing what it termed the “unchecked” power of the prosecutor, the United States feared that politically motivated charges might be filed against American soldiers and civilians. Not only did the United States pull out of the treaty, but also it has since established bilateral treaties with 27 other nations, including Argentina, that foreclose the surrender of U.S. personnel to the ICC. In Washington, President George W. Bush signed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act last August. The law prohibits U.S. cooperation with the ICC and authorizes the president to use “all means necessary” to free U.S. personnel detained by the ICC. “He has the enormous challenge before him of having the most powerful country in the world in opposition to the court,” says Scott Silliman, a former Air Force lawyer who heads the Center on Law, Ethics, and National Security at Duke University School of Law. The selection of Ocampo should help mollify U.S. critics of the court, say observers of the situation. Indeed, the Clinton administration, which had its own reservations about the ICC, “had hoped Ocampo would become the first prosecutor for the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal,” says David Scheffer, the chief U.S. negotiator in talks to establish the ICC and now a senior vice president at the United Nations Association of the United States of America. The position of chief prosecutor for the ICC, Scheffer notes, “requires a unique blend of skills. If one were to list everything that the prosecutor must be, no one would fit all the requirements, but Mr. Ocampo comes pretty close.” ‘NO BABE IN THE WOODS’ Few attorneys in the world have Ocampo’s depth of experience investigating atrocities and prosecuting public officials. Ocampo, 50, graduated from Buenos Aires Law School in 1978. Starting in 1984, he served as assistant prosecutor in the trials against the military junta that had ruled Argentina, which involved analyzing more than 10,000 alleged human rights abuses, selecting 700 cases, and presenting 2,000 witnesses. He also worked on the trials of former Buenos Aires Police chief Gen. Ramón Camps and eight police officers accused of murder, kidnapping, and torture. In 1987, he helped extradite former Gen. Carlos Guillermo Suarez-Mason, a commander in the Buenos Aires region during Argentina’s “dirty war.” These trials were a “turning point in Latin America,” says Robert Goldman, professor at American University Washington College of Law and a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “It was the first time that a military government had been held accountable for its abuses. “At a very young age, he was involved in what were some of the first experiments in the world, other than Nuremberg, in prosecuting state officials responsible for really horrible human rights abuses,” Goldman says. In the following years, Ocampo led the review of a sham military trial of those responsible for the Falkland Islands War and headed the prosecution in the trials stemming from the 1987 and 1990 rebellions against Argentine democracy. Ocampo also serves on the board of Transparency International, an organization dedicated to eliminating corporate and government corruption. Since 1992, he has been the main partner at Moreno Ocampo & Wortman Jofre, a 12-lawyer Buenos Aires firm specializing in criminal and human rights law, corruption control for large organizations, and alternative dispute resolution. He advocated for the interests of victims in the case of Nazi officer Erich Priebke, who was extradited from Argentina to Italy for World War II crimes, and he represented former Argentine economics minister Domingo Cavallo before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. Says Goldman: “Ocampo’s a savvy guy. He’s no babe in the woods.” Goldman, Scheffer, and others say they think Ocampo is a good choice for the ICC job. “I’m very encouraged by this selection,” Scheffer says. “I think it bodes well for the United States’ relationship with the court.” Ocampo could not be reached for comment, but in an address following the election, he vowed to use his powers “with responsibility and firmness.” The existence of the court, Ocampo added, should deter those who would commit atrocities and serve as a catalyst for states to prosecute bad actors in their own courts. “The absence of trials,” he said, “as a consequence of the regular functioning of national institutions, will be its measure of success.” Addressing fears of an activist court and prosecutor, Ocampo offered reassurance. “The world can trust them,” he said. LIMITED DOMAIN Under the ICC’s charter, the court’s reach is confined to cases of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity that nations are unable or unwilling to resolve on their own. The prosecutor may initiate an investigation on his own or on referral by a state member or by the U.N. Security Council. Terrorism and drug trafficking are not within the court’s mandate. Because of the classified information inherent in terrorism cases, as well as the vast web of bilateral agreements, both categories of crime were omitted from the court’s purview in the early stages of negotiation, Scheffer says. But that doesn’t mean the ICC prosecutor can’t go after alleged perpetrators of terrorist acts. Scheffer says a plausible argument could be made that a systematic, planned assault against a civilian population, such as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, constitute a crime against humanity and could be prosecuted as such. Of course, the Sept. 11 attacks predate the court’s creation and are thus beyond its jurisdictional reach. Thus far, 139 countries have signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as the treaty establishing the court is known, and 89 have ratified it. (Not all participated in last week’s vote for the Office of the Prosecutor.) The judiciary comprises three divisions: pretrial, trial, and appeals. Eighteen elected judges from 18 different countries serve either three-, six-, or nine-year terms, depending on their division. The court, based in the Hague, Netherlands, has a budget of 30 million euros for its initial 16 months of operation. Ocampo will draw a salary of $224,816 a year. ICC boosters such as Human Rights Watch and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights downplay the potential hobbling effect of the U.S. opposition to the court. They point out that the ICC has thus far survived U.S. efforts to undermine it. The real test, of course, will come when the first indictment comes down. “It’s hard to predict how the U.S. will respond,” says Anthony Arend, professor of government at Georgetown University. “But say Pakistan captures someone. And it’s a terrorist. My suspicion is that the U.S. will exert strong pressure on Pakistan not to turn him over to the ICC because it would lend legitimacy to the organization,” he says. Neither the State Department nor Pierre-Richard Prosper, current U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes issues, returned calls seeking comment. Arend and others say that the U.S fears of politically driven indictments may be overblown. The Rome Statute allows for agreements that insulate military personnel from ICC prosecution. Ocampo is considered a very measured, careful lawyer, “not a loose cannon,” as Goldman puts it. And by deciding to elect him, observers say, the ICC member states are demonstrating a commitment to bringing in high-caliber public servants rather than rogues with anti-America agendas. “I personally am more sanguine about the court,” Silliman says. Adds Fiona McKay, director of the International Justice Program at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights: “We see his appointment as a major step forward. We’re very hopeful that once the court starts to operate, that people will see it’s not so scary.”

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