We well remember Moreno-Ocampo chose to threaten al-Bashir with arrest over Darfur four years ago. The court’s indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity was the first issued for a serving head of state. It did not include the genocide charges that Moreno-Ocampo wanted because the ICC’s pre-trial panel of judges said he didn’t have the evidence. Even so, all hell broke loose. The Arab League and the African Union condemned the warrant. Al-Bashir expelled foreign charities that were bringing aid to nearly five million refugees in Darfur and he made plans to travel to ICC signatory countries where he would either be arrested or, more likely, mock the court by not being arrested. The trickiest challenge to the court’s reputation was an invitation to al-Bashir from President Museveni of Uganda to an African Union summit in Kampala. Moreno-Ocampo flew there to persuade Museveni to retract it.
The trickiest? Not quite. The day before telling the press that he planned to go after al-Bashir, Moreno-Ocampo had received unwelcome news from an International Labour Organisation tribunal. It had awarded nearly €250,000 in compensation to a former ICC media adviser who had been fired after accusing Moreno-Ocampo of forcing himself sexually on a South African journalist. The allegations were colourful, involving a Cape Town conference, some car keys and a walk on the beach. They were dismissed as “manifestly unfounded” after an internal investigation led by a British judge.
But the tribunal didn’t buy Moreno-Ocampo’s lawyer’s claim that he was the victim of a malicious smear. And reporters were intrigued by the timing of the al-Bashir announcement. Why so soon after the embarrassing compensation award? A 5,000-word hatchet piece in the World Affairs journal, in particular, noted that Moreno- Ocampo’s headline-grabbing over Darfur “obscured” the Cape Town story.
Whatever did or did not happen at the conference hotel, the significance of the story for Moreno-Ocampo watchers is that he survived it. Since then, the pace and number of ICC cases has picked up. The United States has quietly swung behind the court. Alleged atrocities are being investigated in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Uganda (where the target is the grotesquely violent Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army), the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic as well as Darfur. “Preliminary examinations” to establish whether there is a case to answer are under way in eight more countries including Colombia, Afghanistan and North Korea.
These examinations may not lead to trials or convictions, but Moreno-Ocampo insists they serve the larger purpose of deterring crime. He’s especially excited about Colombia, where the mere possibility of ICC action has goaded the Colombian criminal justice system into overdue action of its own against Fare guerrillas; and Korea, where his staff are looking at two attacks by the North that killed civilians in the South. “If the [northern] generals know that they will be prosecuted, they will think twice,” he argues.
Moreno-Ocampo’s vision of the court’s potential is expansive, and all the more so as he winds down before returning to Argentina, the country of his birth. Looking back, he sees “a beautiful boat, the ICC”, with no maps or crew; just instructions to find a crew, feed it and sail well. Looking forward, he sees justice for all. Now he is to hand all this to the glamorous Fatou Bensouda whom the Washington hawks see as an African able to have persuasive powers over the African Union and perhaps settling the present oil problems. She will be in command of seven floors of ICC courtrooms and offices. Two floors are for investigators and two more for prosecutors. On top of this castle of intrigue there is space for some vast number of permanent translators who by law have to type and copy for every one of the 121 countries that signed the court’s foundation document. Can she make it? We wait and see.