Junta Nemesis Named ICC Prosecutor

First chief prosecutor at ICC played key role in Argentina’s march to democracy.

Junta Nemesis Named ICC Prosecutor

First chief prosecutor at ICC played key role in Argentina’s march to democracy.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Argentinian lawyer Luis Moreno Ocampo, famous for convicting former dictator General Galtieri, was this week named as the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, sources told IWPR this week.


The popular lawyer, currently a Harvard professor, was chosen at a closed-door session of leading ICC states in New York on March 21.


Officials at the gleaming white ICC headquarters were jubilant at the prospect this week. “He’s a good choice,” said one official, who refused to be named. “In a certain way it’s kind of symbolic.”


South American states have led the way in joining the ICC, seeing it as a way of cementing their new democratic governments, and Ocampo’s appointment is likely to go down well with them.


Officially, the race for prosecutor remains open: nominations close on April 4 and the choice will be made by the 89 member states on April 23-24.


But the post is one of the toughest in international law, and member states opted to decide on the appointment behind the scenes, rather than indulge in a possibly divisive public election.


Ocampo will come to the job with a glittering CV, having been at the forefront of Argentina’s march to democracy.


In 1985 he was assistant prosecutor in the trials against the former military junta led by General Galtieri who launched the unsuccessful invasion of the Falkland Islands – known as the Malvinas in Argentina - in 1983.


Success there saw him prosecute the Buenos Aires police in 1986, and then, in 1988, he took on the generals responsible for launching the war in the Falklands.


He later campaigned against business corruption, producing research papers on economic transparency.


Before teaching at Harvard, he had spells at other American law schools, including Columbia, Stanford and Yale.


Ocampo has also worked with the United Nations and the Inter-American Development Bank.


All of this will stand him in good stead for the struggle to come.


His job will be to spearhead what is seen by many as a revolution – the world’s first permanent war crimes court.


While there are 18 judges to share the burden of running the ICC, there is but one chief prosecutor.


He will come to the post with some powerful tools – the ICC can compel its member states to hand over people it indicts.


But Ocampo will also find some major obstacles.


The court has a tiny budget – at 24 million US dollars, just a quarter of that for the war crimes tribunal.


And it also has the active opposition of the United States, which fears the ICC could launch politically motivated prosecutions.


Ocampo’s first prosecution will be key – if he wins, it will be a huge boost for the ICC. If he loses, it will be off to the worst possible start.


His choice means that the court will finally be ready for action.


In February, the judges were chosen in a boisterous election in New York that went to 33 rounds.


Chris Stephen is the IWPR bureau chief in The Hague. Neil Arun is an IWPR contributor.


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