Wednesday November 16, 2011

This post was written by TVO.org Producer Michael Lehan.


As head prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo has probably heard it all. Still, during a question period at a screening of his title-sake documentary, Prosecutor, he listened to an emotional audience.

He listened while a York University student of Congolese descent called for further charges against alleged war criminals in his home country; while a First Nations Canadian begged to personally hand Ocampo evidence of Canadian crimes against its Aboriginal peoples; while a question about prosecuting Israel for crimes against Palestinians in Gaza was shouted down by a small but noisy protest from the balcony (it wouldn’t have surprised me to hear complaints from pro-Sudanese and pro-Al Bashir supporters in the audience) in a packed-to-the-rafters Isabel Bader theatre at the University of Toronto.

Ocampo, alongside fellow panelists former Canadian ambassador to the UN Stephen Lewis and documentary-maker Barry Stevens, listened, and sighed. The Hague cannot prosecute who it cannot reach. If a country is not signatory, it cannot prosecute; if a complainant is not a member of the UN, it cannot prosecute; if the country has the means and intent to try its war criminals itself, the ICC has no jurisdiction.

I think the core theme of the documentary, a question it presents, but does not answer (rightly so) is the contradictory limits of international law: is justice not evenly applied justice at all?

The Prosecutor himself thinks so. That the courts have only a handful of thugs in the dock, and all hail from Africa, does not represent a failure of the Hague to him. For Ocampo, the victims of these war criminals are very real, and his short reach does not diminish the value of restitution for the victims of a decade of civil war and genocide in Africa. Better to do what he can than regret what he cannot.

His position is admirable, even if it doesn’t fully pass the purpose of a judicial and penal system. Outside a few ideological circles, incarceration is about punishment of criminals, not reparation for victims. But Ocampo is a man of the law, the limits of the law are the extent of his imagination.

That explains the clear regret in his eyes that Gaddafi is now beyond his reach (his son, however, may not be), as likely soon Joseph Kony of the LRA will be with American drones stalking the skies over the forests of Central Africa. Their fates is justice beyond the Prosecutor’s imagination.

Watch Prosecutor on TVO's Docstudio site now!

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