Luis Moreno-Ocampo doesn't have the name recognition of Angelina Jolie, but he's shared the stage with her, which makes him something of a rock star among prosecutors. In his six years on the International Criminal Court, the feisty Argentine lawyer has become its public face. He was a hero in the documentary "Darfur Now," appears regularly at the United Nations and makes appearances with Jolie and other celebrity activists. He's also become the unlikely target of criticism by humanitarian groups for his role in indicting Sudan's
President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes. Moreno-Ocampo, 56, sat down in New York with NEWSWEEK's Arlene Getz to discuss human rights, Sudan and whether an Obama-led America will join the court. Excerpts:
Getz: Bashir responded to the ICC's arrest warrant by expelling foreign-aid groups from Sudan. Did you expect that?
Moreno-Ocampo: We have evidence that he has been committing massive crimes since 2003. Expelling the aid groups was just another step.
Before the warrant was issued, though, these groups warned that it could backfire.
Let's be clear. Bashir committed the crimes, not the prosecutor. That is why the judge decided that an arrest warrant was necessary.
What about their argument that it would be better to have peace before justice?
I'm just the prosecutor. My role is to collect the facts and the evidence; that is what I did. If people don't know how to manage the facts, it's a challenge. But it's not my job to say how to do it. Bashir will keep committing the crimes, whatever we do. He is exterminating millions of people in front of the eyes of the international community. The court is not calling for armies to manage the country. It's a different way to manage global conflict.
How can you arrest Bashir?
Realistically he can be captured. Both [Yugoslavia's] Slobodan Milosevic and [Liberia's] Charles Taylor were in jail. Whether it takes two months or two years, the destiny of Omar Bashir is to face justice. The problem is how to stop the crimes today. Five thousand people are dying every month in the Darfur camps. This extermination is committed using hunger.
In December 2007, you tried to arrest another indicted Sudanese official, Ahmad Harun, by forcing down his plane. That failed when Harun was tipped off. Do you have a similar plan for Bashir?
We believe that as soon as Bashir travels in international airspace he could be arrested. We would try to organize that, yes. We did it once, we'd try to do it again. [But] the best option here is that the Sudanese government [arrests Bashir] itself. The Sudanese system has to find a way.
Does anyone in Sudan have the political will to do that?
Time develops systems.
Are you trying to find someone there who can help?
I cannot do that. My job is to collect the evidence and show the facts. Now the judge has decided that Bashir is committing extermination. Can a leader be a leader if he is leading [the extermination] of his own people? History has shown no. Bashir now is tainted. The court is not going away.
Does the criticism bother you?
I'm the prosecutor. I don't need [to win] votes. I had to ignore it, because I was sure that what I did was what I had to do. There is no other way to do it.
What else are you working on?
We have the Lubanga trial [against former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo], which we hope to finish in June. We have another two trials coming. And we are having an impact even in countries we don't work in. In Kenya, for example, I've been on the front pages of the newspapers [in connection with investigations in post-election violence]. In Colombia, [officials] say they are prosecuting more cases there because they don't want the court intervening. Russia has started to send us communications about Georgia. The people of Sri Lanka have come to me, even though they are not part of the [ICC] system. So have Hamas in Gaza.
The most important impact of this court is that it provides incentives to the national authorities to behave better. That is the beauty of this global court: It's setting a limit in international relations—no more war crimes, no more crimes against humanity, no more genocide. That is what we are doing.
Is there anything you can do about the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe?
We don't have jurisdiction in Zimbabwe. The only way I could do anything there is if the Security Council refers the case, as they did in Darfur.
With President Barack Obama in office, do you think Washington will join the ICC?
It's a national decision. It's not my business. Of course, in the long term the court aspires to universality. But my job is to make my cases.
You've sold your law practice and given up a position at Harvard to take this job. What will you do after your term as prosecutor?
I think this is the most important thing that I have to do in my life.