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Prosecutor Film Uncovers ICC Struggles



Law. No Order.

A documentary film screening and Q&A with Luis Moreno Ocampo, Stephen Lewis and filmmaker Barry Stevens

Nov. 14, 2011 in Toronto

"The Nazis killed millions of people. We said never again. We were wrong."

"The age of impunity is ending."

These heady and idealistic words come from Luis Moreno-Ocampo, inaugural chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague and subject of the documentary Prosecutor that screened Nov. 14 at Toronto's Isabel Bader Theatre. He emerges in the film -- and later in person during the post-screening Q&A -- as a man who is funny, charismatic, optimistic and entirely single-minded in his pursuit of what justice he can eke out of a flawed system -- all qualities that make him ideal for the job. It was a full house and then some, with a long lineup that crowded the lobby even as the last seats were snapped up.

Having entered into the position on June 16, 2003, Moreno-Ocampo is nearing the end of his nine-year term. The film follows him through 2008 and 2009 when, after years of investigations and carefully assembling the case files, the first prosecutions are brought to trial. The ICC was founded based on a treaty signed by 120 countries in Rome that came into effect on July 1, 2002 for the purpose of trying cases involving genocide and other crimes against humanity. There are many inherent weaknesses in the organization, notably that the ICC can issue arrest warrants, but without a police force, they rely on the cooperation of member states to physically arrest the accused and bring them to trial. His jurisdiction is limited to member states and cases referred by the UN Security Council, with all of its historic biases -- it's a complicated job, in other words.

"I have to build the state around me," he says. Elsewhere he notes, "Legitimacy is our power. We care about the facts." As a prosecutor whose power depends on the cooperation of others, part of his role is to sell the ICC and what it stands for. He's shown visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other places, to speak with those directly affected by the cases he prosecutes and enlist their support. It's a far from smooth process, as many of them fear retaliation -- the violent cycle of retribution that the ICC seeks to replace.

"The world is tired of double standards," Moreno-Ocampo says. Yet that's precisely what the ICC is often accused of by both the right and left camps, and the film gives voice to those opposing views as well. Of the several cases currently in the works, all involve Africans. That was a criticism echoed in one of the questions posed after the film. As the film points out, however, those first three prosecutions were initiated at the request of the DR Congo and the arrests were made by that nation. Investigations are also currently underway in Afghanistan and Colombia.

It's true, however, that many of the world's largest nations -- the U.S.,China and Israel notably, among others -- aren't signatory to the Rome Statute, and so they fall outside his jurisdiction. That's the crux of another major argument against the existence of the ICC -- it simply can't be universally effective.

Perhaps most contentious among the ICC's current files is ICC-02/05-01/09 -- The Prosecutor v. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, the standing head of state of the Sudan. Moreno-Ocampo's indictment and arrest warrant lists genocide and other crimes in relation to actions taken in the war-torn Darfur region. The film shows the global cat and mouse game played by Al Bashir, who openly defies the arrest warrant and the ICC's legitimacy, and Moreno-Ocampo, who lobbies member states to comply with the warrant.

Moreno-Ocampo got a standing ovation from the crowd when he took the stage after the film, and he praised Canada as a non-aggressive country where the rule of law is respected (His staff is liberally peppered with Canadians). It prompted a lament from former ambassador to the UN (among other things) Stephen Lewis on Canada's reduced role internationally under the current government. "We lost our seat on the Security Council," he pointed out.

"Hey, I come from Argentina," Moreno-Ocampo quipped to a round of laughs.

While they didn't agree on everything, Lewis and Moreno-Ocampo made a credible comedy duo on occasion. In explaining his unique role, Moreno-Ocampo came up with the example, "If the federal judge asks the Ontario police to arrest the mayor of Toronto..." to a burst of laughter and applause. When he protested that he was only using it as an example, Lewis quipped, "Yes, but how did you know?"

Other questions were raised about Libya and many of those with their hands up brought their own cases to air, including First Nations issues and at one point, the beginnings of a Palestinian-Israeli debate.

Does the ICC, flawed as it is, make a difference? In the film, the one group that was solidly behind Moreno-Ocampo and his efforts were the victims of the Darfur massacre, and that's what he says motivates him. "I'm here for the African victims," he responded. "We want to stop the crimes from occurring."

Lewis spoke about his recent work on the plight of women as victims of sex slavery, rape and other crimes in DR Congo, and his work with women's groups at a grass roots level. "It's the first elixir of hope they've had," he said of the ICC's current prosecutions. He called it "a very modest yet important improvement."

Typically, Moreno-Ocampo was more expansive. "It's not about these one or two cases -- we change the world," he said. "The people have more power now. We are in the middle of an evolution." He sees it as a different way for nations to deal with each other -- not as a 'world government,' but operating as sovereign nations with a common set of rules.

Prosecutor is currently on the road, with screenings across Canada that you can check out at the link.


2010, 94 min 36 s

Directed by Barry Stevens

Produced by Julia Bennett, Peter Raymont & Lea Marin

Production Agency: White Pine Pictures & the National Film Board of Canada

Based in part on the book The Sun Climbs Slow: The International Criminal Court and the Struggle for Justice by Erna Paris.

Images courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.

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