Luis Moreno-Ocampo previously served as the first Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court before joining Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs in 2013 as a senior fellow. It might seem like a drastic shift — from war criminals and dictators to Yale students — but Moreno-Ocampo describes his time at Yale as fascinating. Despite dividing his time between Buenos Aires, New York, and New Haven, he was able to find a spare moment to sit down with WEEKEND and reflect on topics from current issues in Argentina to the meaning of a global education.
Q: What does your work as a senior fellow entail?
A: I started teaching here for the first time last year. The Jackson [Institute] invited me to come here and I said yes. Now for me, I like Jackson because it is not just about law, it is about Global Affairs. So I want to review what I did for nine years as the first prosecutor of the ICC, but I need to know what happened to others. I want to understand the rationale of their reactions. For me, international law is not just the text of the norms, it is how the relevant actors apply the norms. That’s why I came here.
Q: Is there any similarity between how you chose criminal cases as a prosecutor and how you choose case studies as a professor?
A: No because when I was prosecutor I got a mandate, I had no freedom. Here, as a professor, I have more freedom.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on what is going on in Argentina right now [with the accusations surrounding President Cristina Kirchner]?
A: The current Argentina situation shows that political interference and corruption is promoting inefficiency of our national criminal justice systems and the absence of an impartial international body to complement the national investigation is making it difficult to solve the problems.
Q: Do you think that is something that law will have to focus on in the future?
A: Yes, how to coordinate national states and international organizations, that is the problem of your generation. My generation is dumb, because my generation is educated in national systems so they don’t focus on global issues.
Q: Is there some sort of compromise of national sovereignty as international systems grow and solidify?
A: It depends. National interest is connected with the size of the country and its army. Small and medium countries have interest to use international law to manage conflicts and the could be more eager to compromise their sovereignty. But the U.S. has hegemonic military power, no one can challenge it.
Q: Is there something lost with outsourcing that power of the judiciary systems to the ICC? What does it mean for the constitutions of those nations involved in the ICC?
A: Nothing. The system was built and is working without the U.S. Its relevance can be bigger if the conflict managers learn how to use the legal system as leverage in negotiations.
Q: Is there any sort of struggle between the United States and the ICC?
A: The Bush Administration was very hostile until 2005, but no later and not now. When I was appointed, I was teaching at Harvard and a colleague of mine told me it was an honor to get the position, but he had to reject it. I said “Why?” “Because without U.S. support you cannot investigate and you cannot arrest. It will be a shame because you will receive a salary for nine years doing nothing.” That was his prediction. There was a chance that he was right. So my job was to build an institution. Now it is there. It is part of the international landscape and it will not disappear.
Q: Your friend mentioned that lack of support and thought it might be a hindrance to the ICC. What do you do in these situations of doubt, whether in the courtroom or in your daily life?
A: When you are the chief prosecutor, you cannot just say, “Oh, I made a mistake.” Before you move, you have to be sure. When you move ahead, you stay there, even if you are attacked. I was teaching at Harvard in January and I asked my students:
In 2007, no state was interested in confronting Bashir. I had evidence against him, but I knew that if I requested an arrest warrant, the court could be isolated and without support. So I had this dilemma and I asked my students, “What do you think? What should I do?” And 43% said I should indict Bashir. 43% said I should not. And that is real life. That is my life. Half of the world will be against you.
Q: How do you promote that same sense of clarity with your students that you have in your decision-making?
A: I try to make them think. I try to present real problems and let the think about possible solutions from their own perspective. It’s not about them refuting what I say, it is about them solving problems on their own.
Q: Where can students find or discover that ability to identify novelty in the system? How, if it is possible, can students be inspired to find that?
A: I believe that case studies of real dilemmas are good for students, because you discuss the connections between different factors. Through simulations of the UN Security Council you understand Russia, China, and Germany’s rationale. I think American students need to learn more about the other actors, to develop an American strategy.
Q: So do you see there being a change in the way that America talks about itself, considering that it is not leading the world? Do you think that will be realized in rhetoric?
A: American exceptionalism is rooted in history. The U.S. could not accept the global order in the 19th century, when they were fighting the British Empire. But then in the 20th century, after the First World War and the second, the U.S. led the new global order. After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. was not leading the global order — its focus on national security became parochial.
Q: The nature of your career has been very public. But if you had the opportunity to speak candidly to the world for a minute, what do you think would be crucial to tell them?
A: I would say, we don’t know what kind of world we are leaving to our children, but we should know what children we are giving to the world. Your education is key but no one can define how the world will be in 20 years. So we need to provide a education to allow you to define how the world will be in the future.
Q: So do you think you will keep teaching in the upcoming years? Or do you have any personal projects that you will pursue?
A: I want to keep teaching and learning from my students to understand the world. But I think it is my last year here.
Q: Do you think you will move back to Argentina?
A: Normally I live two weeks of the month in Buenos Aires and a week a month in New York working as a lawyer. I spend my winter and spring teaching. But now I am going to Harvard.
Q: How do you balance all these different commitments? Is there anything you like to do that is not directly related to your field?
For me this is fascinating. Teaching at Yale is fascinating. It is not a job, it is a learning experience. Talking to a different generation, a different mindset. I love that.
Q: How do you think international judiciary systems can protect human rights? Do you think it is a preventative measure?
A: International law is not about the courtroom. It is putting some actions, like massive crimes, outside of the political options. Additionally, legal institutions are transforming he relation with the killers. The idea is that having a system of law means that the killers are not your enemies. The killers are criminals. And then you cannot kill the killers, you should prosecute them. So if someone rapes my daughter, I cannot kill him. I should put him in jail and I can hate him, but I cannot kill him. And that’s why it is not about courtroom activities, it’s about how we change the framework for individuals reacting.
Q: How does the UN relate to the ICC? Will there be a merge at any point?
A: No, because the UN Security Council is a meeting place. Samantha Powers wrote a book saying that blaming the Security Council for the lack of security in the world is like blaming Madison Square Garden because the Knicks are playing bad basketball. But it is an important meeting place. It decides important issues. The ICC should be independent, its contribution is to keep its legal mandate.