The Lubanga Sentence (Part 2): Why the Ocampo Bashing is getting old

There is no doubt that Luis Moreno Ocampo, the recently departed ICC Prosecutor, was to ICL commentators what George Dubya Bush was to liberal americans, an endless provider of material to write about. I have myself blogged extensively on his gaffes, legal blunders and media outings over the years. Ocampo has also received a number of significant rebukes from ICC Judges in a number of decisions, not least in the Lubanga case and, with the Sentencing Decision that was handed down today, The Trial Chamber made sure not to miss this new, and probably last, opportunity to pile things on him again. But I’m wondering if the Ocampo bashing is not getting a little old. I don’t think he can be blamed for everything that went wrong in the Lubanga trial, and it should not mask the fact that the Judges did not take the appropriate measures to ensure that he stayed in line. This is true for both aspects of the Chamber’s consideration of prosecutorial conduct.

  • The question of sexual violence

First of all, in relation to Ocampo’s stance on Sexual Violence, the Chamber has the following to say (§60):

The Chamber strongly deprecates the attitude of the former Prosecutor in relation to the issue of sexual violence. He advanced extensive submissions as regards sexual violence in his opening and closing submissions at trial, and in his arguments on sentence he contended that sexual violence is an aggravating factor that should be reflected by the Chamber. However, not only did the former Prosecutor fail to apply to include sexual violence or sexual slavery at any stage during these proceedings, including in the original charges, but he actively opposed taking this step during the trial when he submitted that it would cause unfairness to the accused if he was convicted on this basis. Notwithstanding this stance on his part throughout these proceedings, he suggested that sexual violence ought to be considered for the purposes of sentencing.

There is no doubt that Ocampo deserved some criticism for his charging strategy in the Lubanga case. As Kevin John Heller points out over at Opinio Juris, you have to wonder if he does not now regret some of the choices he made, and, as I have said in the past, it can be argued that he shot himself in the foot by putting sexual violence forward systematically while refusing to charge the crime.

However, the bottom line is that this is part of prosecutorial discretion under the legal framework of the ICC. Whatever one thinks of the policy, it was perfectly within Ocampo’s powers to limit the charges in this way. He did not “fail to apply to include sexual violence”. He exercised his legally granted discretion not to include these charges, and the judges should stop harking on about it, which is, beyond their own discretion. I find this “it’s not our fault, it’s his fault” discourse equally unprofessional.

Moreover, the requalification of charges mess that delayed the trial even longer was certainly not Ocampo’s fault. It was due to the Chamber’s (with Fulford dissenting) totally inappropriate use of Regulation 55 (which is, as I’ve argued elsewhere an ultra vires extension of the Chamber’s power to start with) and Ocampo was perfectly right to oppose it.

Finally, given the Chamber’s acknowledgement that sexual violence could indeed be considered for sentencing, the Judges apparently agreed with Ocampo on this issue, so their rebuke was not really called for.

Bottom line, the Judges are unhappy that Ocampo did not charge sexual violence and want to make clear that it’s not their fault. That is not their role and is not professional conduct.

  • The delays during the trial
Second of all, the Chamber recalls the several instances of prosecutorial misconduct, and recognises the fact that Lubanga was “respectful and cooperative throughout the proceedings, notwithstanding some particularly onerous circumstances” (§91). The Judges recall three particular instances: the non-disclosure of exculpatory material, the non-compliance with Chamber orders for disclosure of the names of intermediaries and a public interview made by Beatrice le Fraper who made “misleading and inaccurate statements to the press about the evidence in the case” (§91).
In relation to the last incident, I commented at the time, saying that, while maybe a little careless, the statements by le Fraper were wrongly considered to put the fairness of the trial at risk. In relation to the non-disclosure issues, I commented extensively (here and here) on the appalling conduct of the Prosecutor. But once that was said, what did the the Chamber do about it? The Appeals Chamber at the time explicitly told the Trial Chamber to initiate proceedings for misconduct, which was never done. They might even have initiated more serious contempt proceedings, warranted by the gravity of what happened, or the ASP could have decided to remove the Prosecutor. At the time, however, the President of the ASP, in a meeting in The Hague candidly said that this would never happen
So basically, nobody did anything about Ocampo, except give him symbolic slaps on the wrist, as was done in the Lubanga Judgment. As I said back then, there comes a moment where this is not enough. There comes a moment where the judges should have taken their responsibilities and used their powers under the Statute to sanction Ocampo. One could even argue that the only adequate remedy for this systematic prosecutorial misconduct would have been a permanent stay of proceedings and the release of Lubanga. And arguably, the Trial Chamber did pronounce a stay of proceedings twice, overturned both times by the Appeals Chamber. But the Trial judges missed a last opportunity to draw the logical consequence of the poor and unfair conduct of the proceedings: the judgment itself. Instead, they just frowned at the prosecutor once again. 
And now they present themselves as the knights in shining armor, commending Lubanga for his conduct when faced with “unwarranted pressure by the conduct of the prosecution during the trial” (§97), and deciding to consider this as a mitigating circumstances. For me, at the end of the day, the judges are as responsible as Ocampo was for this trial being a joke at times, by failing to use their statutory powers to control him (and even, as recalled previously, by delaying the trial themselves). Apparently, command responsibility only applies to war criminals…
  • Final thoughts on Ocampo
I never thought I would one day write such a defense of Ocampo, having been a very vocal critic of his performance in past years. But there comes a moment when I get suspicious of systematic scapegoating. Ocampo was most certainly, all things considered, a poor choice as a Prosecutor. His communication skills are far from commendable, and more dramatically, his grasp of international criminal law was shaky at best. But, for better or for worse, he did put the ICC on the international map in a way that I’m not sure another Prosecutor would have done, and I did agree with some of his positions over the years (unsurprisingly, when he opposed an extensive participation of victims, for example). 
More importantly, and to come back to my Bush metaphor, I’m afraid that the poor performance of Ocampo is tainting our approach to Bensouda in the same way that Obama was seen as the savior of the nation. Everybody is head over heels for Bensouda and does not associate her with Ocampo. Even the Sentencing Judgment, when referring to the “former-prosecutor” plays a part in this narrative. But, as I’ve said before, Bensouda worked for Ocampo for 9 years, and can’t have not been involved in any of the bad decisions that he made. For example, I’ve seen some of the first documents coming out of the OTP in the Gbagbo case, and they certainly have not improved in terms of legal reasoning.
Of course, I wish Bensouda the best, but I do call for caution in having too high expectations, which is the surest way to have them dissapointed. All the talk about Africa and the ICC, geopolitcal considerations of selection of cases, extra-legal debates on Peace Vs Justice and the fact that we have both an African and a woman as Prosecutor as an offering to political correctness, should not mask the simple fact: what we need is a competent Prosecutor, nothing more, nothing less.

One response to “The Lubanga Sentence (Part 2): Why the Ocampo Bashing is getting old

  1. Pingback: The Lubanga Appeals Judgment: another nail in the coffin of the Confirmation of Charges Procedure? | Spreading the Jam

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