War crimes tribunal seeks legal superhero

November 1, 2011 9:18 am

, UNITED NATIONS, Nov 1 – The International Criminal Court is searching for a legal superhero to hunt down heads of state wanted for genocide, dictators’ sons on the run and militia leaders accused of mass rapes.

The job description for the ICC’s chief prosecutor demands something like the investigative skills of Sherlock Holmes, the diplomacy of Otto von Bismarck and the managerial talents of Steve Jobs.

The court’s first prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, will report to the UN Security Council on Wednesday on his efforts to detain leading war crimes suspects.

But for the next four weeks there will be more focus on the search for his replacement.

A field of 52 candidates has been whittled down to four. The court could get a superwoman, as Moreno-Ocampo’s deputy, Fatou Bensouda, a former justice minister in her native Gambia, is considered the favorite by many diplomats.

She is up against Mohamed Chande Othman, chief justice of Tanzania, Briton Andrew Cayley, co-prosecutor in the Cambodian special court handling Khmer Rouge trials, and Robert Petit, the Canadian Justice Department’s top specialist on war crimes.

All four will give presentations at the UN headquarters this month to the nearly 120 signatories to the court’s statutes, who will try to decide on a consensus candidate before an election in early December.

“To find the perfect person to be the prosecutor of the ICC is virtually impossible,” said Richard Goldstone, the first prosecutor of the international tribunals on Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

“It requires a legal superman, or a legal superwoman,” commented Param-Preet Singh, a senior counsel for Human Rights Watch.

The ICC has Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on its wanted list for genocide in Darfur and had also issued a warrant for Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi, gunned down by opposition fighters on October 20.

Kadhafi’s fugitive son Seif al-Islam is currently negotiating with the court, and senior Kenyan officials and militia leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo are also on its wanted list.

The prosecutor must have top level international justice skills, but is also the face of the ICC and has to be “media savvy” to project the court’s message to the world, said Goldstone.

“You need someone who understands the demands of acting independently and with impartiality on an international stage to put forward the needs of justice and the needs of victims at times when it may not always be convenient for the international community,” added Singh.

With so many high-profile suspects, diplomacy is also crucial.

“If you don’t understand the politics of international justice, you don’t understand international justice,” said Goldstone. “You can’t divorce the politics, because these courts have to rely on international cooperation.”

The ICC will never get its suspects without the help of the governments involved, he added.

Moreno-Ocampo, who will stand down next June after serving as prosecutor since 2002, has had to lobby hard to secure support for efforts to catch Sudan’s Bashir.

“You have to be a diplomat for international justice but also respect the principles of criminal justice professionalism,” said Singh, stressing the need for independence and impartiality.

While the election organizers will seek consensus on a single candidate before the vote, politics will inevitably play a decisive role.

African nations complain that the court focuses too much on cases in the continent and not on the actions of leaders in the West. They have tried to get proceedings against Bashir suspended.

The African Union has given a public endorsement to Bensouda and many European nations are also said to favor an African candidate to blunt criticism of the ICC.

“The next few weeks will be telling to see whether or not they can achieve consensus,” said Singh.

Goldstone highlighted that of the seven investigations — all African — being handled by the ICC, only one was at the initiative of the court. The others were referred by national governments or the UN Security Council.

“It is the politics of the situation which is causing unhappiness with the African Union,” he said. “I would be much happier if there were some non-African situations, but the court must be factually driven.”


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