In 2003, a year after the International Criminal Court was created—the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal—Luis Moreno-Ocampo became its first prosecutor. In his native Argentina, he had prosecuted and won convictions of top military commanders accused of masterminding the “dirty war”— including mass killings and other large-scale human rights abuses against civilians. The ICC can only take on cases referred by its member states or the U.N. Security Council and relies on states to make arrests. Three trials are underway—all involving situations in Africa—and Moreno-Ocampo’s office is exploring allegations of abuses in member states ranging from Ghaza to Colombia to Kenya to Afghanistan. This year, he worked with Martha Minow and Alex Whiting to develop a seminar reviewing the work of his first seven years as prosecutor.
Q: Why are you participating in this class?
I came [to Harvard Law School] in 2005 when I was starting and it was very good for me to discuss policies with people here. … We’re in the middle of the process, but you saw today the discussion helped me to illuminate areas, to also see changes, to present new ideas and also withdraw ideas. It’s helping us do our job. Because if you follow the discussion, you will find that for the International Criminal Court, like any other court—it’s power is in its legitimacy. So we have to be sure that our procedures are perceived as legitimate and adopted with legitimacy. This exercise is very interesting for me because it allows me to do this rethinking on issues that for me are my daily work, but here I am watching them from a different point of view.
Q: What’s hardest about your job?
My job is very complex. I have to apply a new law [the Rome Statute], which in terms of process has different components, and in terms of legal aspects has also different areas. I have to investigate impossible crimes in ongoing conflicts. I also have to learn how to establish relations with states and international organizations. But probably the most difficult part is being a manager. I have to manage 300 people from 70 countries and they have different disciplines so when I say go there, they go in ten different directions. It’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure. So, probably the most difficult part is building the team.
Q: Do you think about the role you are playing in history?
I feel privileged to receive this position, which is the result of many, many people in the past: One of the Red Cross founders who was saying in 1873 that this court should be created. Raphael Lemkin, the guy who promoted the Genocide Convention. And in 1998, delegates from 160 states debating for five weeks [the creation of] this court in a very harsh debate. So many people work for years on this. And suddenly they offer the job to me. And in this sense I feel part of a long history. The thing I cannot do, I cannot destroy all of this work.