In April this year while I was almost completing my masters degree at Columbia University in New York, I made several attempts to interview Luis Moreno Ocampo, the first prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) from 2003 to 2012 .
I wanted to get his views on the collapse of the cases he instituted against six Kenyans for their alleged roles in the deadly clashes that broke out in parts of the country following the announcement of President Mwai Kibaki as the winner of the December 2007 elections.
At the time, Mr Ocampo was a senior partner at Getnick & Getnick LLP in New York, barely 20 minutes away by train from Columbia University. He has since started his own consultancy firm, Moreno Ocampo LLC also based in New York.
After sending several requests to him on his law firm’s email account, Mr Ocampo’s secretary, Ms Elizabeth Brown, finally replied saying the lawyer would not grant me an interview but was willing to write an opinion piece on condition that he would have to see the final edits before publishing.
I wrote back informing her that my editor was okay with him writing an opinion piece reflecting ICC’s legacy in Kenyan politics ahead of the August 8 General Election, but will not see the final edits as he had requested.
Further emails to him and her secretary went unanswered and it took a French visiting professor of political science at Columbia University to guess why he probably declined to grant me the interview or even write the opinion piece.
“Ocampo has been caricatured as an imperious character, fit for TV, rather than the high flying lawyer he once was,” the professor told me. “That has hurt his ego and his career post-ICC. You can hardly find anyone to talk positively about him in the international justice system,” he added.
The professor, whom we cannot name because of the sensitivity of the issue, further, explained the Kenyan cases had done irreparable damage to Mr Ocampo’s reputation, cultivated through brilliant legal work and by playing the media to his advantage.
“He simply did not realise the magnitude of the cases he took on in Kenya. Most of the international community didn’t either, but Ocampo’s singular failure, as the prosecutor, failure to skilfully analyse the nuances of the Kenyan situation was his undoing,” he said.
The Argentinian-born lawyer is both credited for putting the court on the international map through his numerous TV appearances in which he often bragged that the court was on a mission to put a stop to global impunity of rogue leaders.
However, the “world’s prosecutor”, as he was dubbed, is equally blamed for damaging its reputation for his shoddy investigations into the Kenyan violence that doomed the cases from the start. “He prosecuted the case through the media to cover up for the shoddy job he did on getting hard evidence,” said the professor.
On December 14, 2010, Mr Ocampo named six Kenyans as bearing the greatest responsibility for the 2007-8 post-election violence. From the President Kibaki side, he named then Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura and Police Commissioner Maj Gen (Rtd) Hussein Ali.
On Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s side, he named Agriculture minister William Ruto, his Industrialisation counterpart Henry Kosgey and radio journalist Joshua Sang.
International critics of Mr Ocampo and local skeptics wondered at this “balancing” of suspects. But fears mounted when the prosecutor released his preliminary evidence he had on the suspects – some of which seemed farfetched to Kenyans.
The ICC’s preliminary examination in Kenya was based largely on the Kenyan civil societies whose work was coloured with their own biases and lack of comprehensive independent investigations. Prior to naming the suspects, Mr Ocampo had been lionized in the country as the one who would finally slay the dragon of impunity that has long been a feature of Kenya’s politics.
His posters adorned matatus alongside some iconic figures such as US President Barack Obama. During a television interview, he promised victims of the violence that he would get them justice that the local courts had failed to give them.
However, as he was to admit later in several interviews to international media, it failed. He told New York Times magazine reporter James Verini last year June, that he knew all along that he had a weak case against the six Kenyans but decided to push on with them nonetheless.
“It was a mess,” Mr Ocampo told the reporter of the fallout within the court as a result of the Kenyan cases. “I fought with all of my guys, because I was involved in everything. That’s the problem: All of us were totally emotionally involved. If not, you’re not there.”
Mr Ocampo was born in Buenos Aires in 1952 and graduated from the University of Buenos Aires Law School in 1978. From 1980 to 1984 he worked as a law clerk in the office of the Solicitor General in Argentina.
He rose to prominence in 1985, as assistant prosecutor in the “Trial of the Juntas”, the first trial since the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi criminals that senior military commanders were prosecuted for mass killings.
He served as district attorney for the city of Buenos Aires from 1987 to 1992, during which time he prosecuted the military commanders responsible for the Falklands War with Britain in 1982.
In 1992, he resigned and established a private law firm, Moreno Ocampo & Wortman Jofre. He defended several controversial figures, including football legend Diego Maradona. He was unanimously elected chief prosecutor of the ICC in June 2003. His tenure was a difficult one.
The first public signal of dissatisfaction with the Prosecutor was registered in July 2006 when the Court invited Antonio Cassese, the first president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to submit amicus curiae briefs, a kind of peer review. Both challenged Moreno Ocampo’s performance.
“Addressing the Prosecutor like a teacher dressing down a particularly inept student, Cassese assailed every aspect of Moreno Ocampo’s investigations but especially his failure to undertake even “targeted and brief interviews” in Darfur,” wrote Julie Flint and Alex De Waal in World Affairs magazine.
Mr Ocampo would often brag to the media that there is no one he wouldn’t take down having successfully battled generals in his home country. But as the collapse of the Kenyan cases proved, he erroneously imagined he would use the methods he had used in Argentina in all cases.