AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A track record of championing victims’ rights and a disregard for politics are hallmarks of the hard-talking International Criminal Court prosecutor who is now opening an investigation into ethnic killings in Kenya.
“My duty is to apply the law without political considerations,” Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a speech in 2007. “Law is the only efficient way to prevent recurrent violence and atrocities.”
That approach has earned the Argentine national both admiration and criticism.
Some legal observers have argued the court’s actions risk prolonging conflict by jeopardizing peace deals, such as in Sudan’s Darfur region or in Uganda, where charges have been made against Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
But Moreno-Ocampo, 57, has pushed ahead, not only expanding the number of ICC cases, but also winning a ruling in February opening up the possibility of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir being charged with genocide in Darfur.
In an interview after that ruling in his office in The Hague, Moreno-Ocampo warned Bashir had better “get a lawyer.”
“He will just totally ignore the political considerations, so it is very stimulating and reassuring to work for a very independent prosecutor,” said one of Moreno-Ocampo’s associates at the ICC.
A tall, imposing man with a greying beard and hair, Moreno-Ocampo has helped thrust the world’s first permanent war crimes court into the international limelight.
On Wednesday, he won the right to open an investigation in a fifth African nation: to find and bring to the ICC’s courtroom those most responsible for the killing of 1,220 people, the rape of hundreds and forced displacement of more than 350,000 in ethnic violence after Kenyan elections in late 2007.
Appointed as the ICC’s first prosecutor in April 2003, he is also conducting preliminary examinations in Guinea, Gaza, Georgia, Ivory Coast, Afghanistan and Colombia.
Prior to his ICC appointment, Moreno-Ocampo was involved between 1984 and 1992 in Argentina in the prosecutions of military commanders for mass killings and other human rights abuses during the country’s “dirty war.”
He also worked as the legal representative in 2001 of victims in the extradition of former Nazi Erich Priebke to Italy and during the 2002 trial of the chief of the Chilean secret police for the murder of General Carlos Prats.
Those who know him describe Moreno-Ocampo as a driven man, determined to place victims at the center of justice.
“He is totally exhausting to work with because he works all the time. He works 24 hours a day, he works eight days a week,” said his ICC associate.
But there have also been setbacks, with lengthy delays to the ICC’s first case against Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga in a dispute over withheld evidence. The court has also dismissed charges against a Sudanese rebel.
Moreno-Ocampo’s empathy with victims is a recurring theme. The case against Lubanga concentrated solely on child soldiers — a narrow focus which also sparked criticism that crimes of sexual violence were not included.
His job has also made him a prime target for death threats, but he shrugs aside such concerns.
“Life is risky. It’s OK — it’s my work,” he told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Ben Berkowitz in The Hague; editing by Mark Trevelyan