Q&A with Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Argentinian who heads the prosecution team at the International Criminal Court, believes the charges he's brought against Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's regime will set a precedent in dealing with crime internationally.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, pictured in December last year, believes the swift criminal action taken over Libya will deter other tyrants.
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As the prosecutor of the world's first permanent court to try individuals for genocide and war crimes, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, represents the face of international justice.

He has pursued cases against leaders such as president Omar al-Bashir, of Sudan, and the leaders of Uganda's guerrilla movement.

The court has been operating for less than a decade. It has issued indictments exclusively in African cases, leading some to complain of bias. Some of the most influential countries in the world, such as China, Russia and the US, have not even signed up to the court and can probably never be investigated.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo, who occupies a rather unassuming corner office, is acutely aware of the unusual nature of his work. The ICC, he says, is part of a new way of dealing with conflicts - and the international community is still feeling its way around it.

"It's a new idea. The Arab movement is changing not just how Arab leaders are working, it's changing how global leaders are working," he says.

"This Libyan situation is interesting because it shows that. The Darfur case was referred to the ICC two years after the beginning of the crimes. Libya was referred 10 days after the beginning of the crimes. There were three months of discussions in the [UN] Security Council about the ICC in the Darfur case. There were zero discussions in the Libya case. In Darfur, there were four countries who abstained.

"On Libya there were no abstentions - China, Russia, Lebanon, India, US - full agreement. So the world is changing, that is why it is complicated, it will be a little messy, but it is worth it."

Q But what about the charges of bias? That you're only going after weaker, developing countries?

A I can just investigate crimes committed in the state parties territory [the countries that have signed and ratified the ICC treaty]. If you mention to me one country in my state parties that I'm not investigating then you can tell me something. The rest of the world is a Security Council decision and then you can say there are still double standards. I would not say there are no more double standards in the world, I would say you believe it's not true what we're saying on the Libya crimes? Is it not true what we say about the crimes committed by Lubanga, Joseph Kony or Jean-Pierre Bemba or president Bashir?

If you think the crimes are real, you should support the court, if not, you support the criminals.

Particularly for people in the Arab world, there's always the case of Palestine. You said that you would look at the case but nothing has happened yet.

When Palestine came here, they requested to brief me on the fact that they have the capacity to accept jurisdiction in Palestine and they concluded the brief a few months ago. So I will do it very soon on Palestine.

Very few Arab countries have signed up to the ICC. Is that a problem?

For me, it was impressive how Arab people from all over the world were liaising with us. Tunisia and Egypt announced that they will come. I think it will come. As I say, it is a process, it is coming. There are different things happening today. The promising thing about Libya is that the world is coming together to fix the problem. Why the Libya case is so important is that it will offer a model for the next time.

More so than the Sudan case?

On Libya there is much more consensus than on Sudan.

Could the speed at which the decision on Libya was taken also pose a perception problem; that you rushed it because of international diplomatic or political reasons?

No one pushed me to present my case. On the contrary, some people were worried about my move. As soon as I had my evidence, I had to show it and, in particular, because one of the most important parts we found were the crimes committed in Tripoli. Because people are aware of the crimes in the squares at the beginning of February but they are not aware of crimes committed today in Tripoli. And the worst thing for me is the persecution of the people in Tripoli and areas under Qaddafi's control. His people prepared lists of suspected dissidents and they just go there and arrest them and torture them and they disappear and we should stop that. That is the most important reason to move fast. We have to stop the crimes.

So prevention of violence is part of your brief?

Absolutely, we have to stop impunity to help prevent future crimes. That is my mission. The issue is, as soon as I have evidence, I move. Should I delay the presentation of my evidence because I move very fast? No, I should not.

But how does prevention work?

People look at what is happening and say nothing is changing. No one wants a problem with the ICC, no one wants to be indicted. If this case is working well in Libya, people around the world will be careful not to commit these crimes - that's a change.

You don't have a brief from the Security Council to investigate what is happening in Syria, Yemen etc. So, how would that help to deter things happening there?

That is the Security Council's business. But I suppose if they see the Libyan situation in this way, they would take it into consideration.

Are you not worried that the arrest warrants may actually form an obstacle for a negotiated solution in Libya?

Negotiators have to be very clear about the framework. The law is there. Negotiators also have to respect the UNSC resolution. They cannot ignore it. They have to negotiate, taking into consideration the justice reference. Also, we have to understand that those who commit the crimes use the negotiators to be protected and to keep committing crimes. It is a new way to deal with the conflict. We have to be both professional and creative.