Luis Moreno Ocampo and the Rise of the International Criminal Justice System

January 31, 2013 • Blogs, The World at Yale, Uncategorized • Views: 1200

by Zoe Rubin

On Tuesday, Dr. Luis Moreno Ocampo, until recently Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) delivered the Inaugural Gruber Distinguished Lecture in Global Justice at Yale Law School. Contrary to some expectations, rather than deliver an impassioned plea for the U.S. to ratify the ICC’s founding treaty (which it has only signed), Moreno-Ocampo devoted the bulk of his talk to highlighting the successes of the nascent institution.

Since the ICC’s inception in 1998, the supranational court has preliminarily examined international crimes committed in 20 situations around the world, such as in Afghanistan, Georgia, and Colombia.  The Rome Statute tasked the Court with investigating and prosecuting four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. However, the body can only intervene when a state either cannot or will not do so itself.

Moreno-Ocampo spoke of the ICC’s accomplishments with a thick Buenos Aires accent, clearly relishing every statistic: the nine individuals that appeared voluntarily before the court, the five states that referred their own situations to the Court, the 30 arrest warrants issued, the 22 out of 30 accused criminals no longer at large, and the one individual convicted. A one-in-thirty conviction rate may not appear encouraging for the decade old institution. But in the controversial and often political world of international justice, Moreno-Ocampo believed it was an unprecedented start. He smiled and concluded, “The Empire of the Law is growing.”

To the former Prosecutor, the arrests themselves, not just the convictions, were signs of immense progress. The ICC’s reach, he argued, comes from the “shadow of the court.” The act of conscripting child soldiers, and other crimes against humanity, Moreno-Ocampo reasoned, “is not a crime of passion, this is a calculated crime.” Would-be war criminals and perpetrators of genocide now recognize that they will no longer enjoy impunity for their actions and so are responding accordingly.

Not even infamous criminals still at large have truly eluded the ICC’s reach. One of the more riveting stories Moreno-Ocampo recounted was about Joseph Kony, the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army commander indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Appalled by the ICC’s indictment of him, Kony once summoned an expert on the court to his Achioli tribe to explain the case. When the expert suggested they move to a more private place, Kony refused. “And so the expert was discussing with Joseph Kony,” Moreno-Ocampo pauses, “in the bush… surrounded by two hundred abducted children… why these were crimes against humanity.” The absurdity of the scene was not lost on the gaping audience of silent lawyers.

Zoe Rubin is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at

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