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Film Follows First Trials of International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor

October 6, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
In "Prosecutor," filmmaker Berry Stevens follows Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. This excerpt is part of The Economist Film Project series of independently produced films aired in partnership between The Economist and the NewsHour.

JEFFREY BROWN: Next, another story from our Economist Film Project series.

Tonight’s film, titled “Prosecutor,” follows the work of the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, a jurist from Argentina, has a mandate to investigate war crimes around the world, but he and the court have faced criticism for ineffectiveness.

In this excerpt, he opens a case in 2009 against a rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo accused of using child soldiers in his militia.

Barry Stevens is the filmmaker and also narrates the film.

A warning: This excerpt contains graphic images.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO, International Criminal Court: The Nazi regime killed millions of people. We say never again. It was not true. It happened again and again. Then, in 1998, a new idea. There will be no more impunity for massive criminality, genocide and crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court will step in when the states do nothing, end of impunity, a new era. That’s the International Criminal Court.

BARRY STEVENS: But how can a prosecutor in one court in The Hague bring justice to a violent world?

January 2009, Moreno-Ocampo has been on the job now for five years. And he is finally ready to start his first trial. The global court’s jail is holding just four prisoners. All are African. The man about to go on trial was arrested by the Democratic Republic of Congo, a militia leader named Thomas Lubanga. He’s charged with using child soldiers.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: Can we start? The idea is to show to you…

BARRY STEVENS: The prosecutor does a last rehearsal with ICC lawyers.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: Hundreds of childrens still suffer the consequences of Lubanga’s crimes. They cannot forget what they suffer, what they saw, what they did.

SARA CRISCITELLI, prosecution coordinator: They may object us that an opening statement really is supposed to be not sort of this evocative, emotional kind of thing, but, you know, just a recitation, our evidence will be X. It’s supposed to be a dry recitation, not…

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: Dry recitation? No, not a dry recitation. No, not really. This office will not have dry recitations.

SARA CRISCITELLI: No, no, no, I don’t want that.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: I remember when I was in Argentina doing my trial, I would say that my mother was against me. I couldn’t convince my mother that Gen. Videla had to be in jail. And when the trial started, my mother was convinced. It’s about the people. So, I have to convince the world that this is awful.

WOMAN: History is made today as the International Criminal Court begins its first trial.

BARRY STEVENS: The defendant, Thomas Lubanga, arrivals from jail.

WOMAN: It will be the first time a trial has focused exclusively on the use of child soldiers. The identities of some of those testifying will be concealed.

MAN: This court is being watched all over the world very closely. But some critics say that prosecuting some people stands in the way of a more peaceful solution.

MAN: It took Luis Moreno-Ocampo five years to get his first case to trial. And that very nearly collapsed before it started.

MAN: The court is working in active war zones. They have to investigate and protect witnesses. You have no police force.

MAN: In his view, the defendant is guilty because he says so. It’s not up to him. It’s up to the court.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: They cannot not forget what they suffer, what they saw, what they did. Your Honors, Thomas Lubanga, he knew he was breaking the basic rule that world established to protect those with the least power among us, little children.

Children are not soldiers. If convicted, Thomas Lubanga’s sentence will send a clear message: The era of impunity is ending.

MAHMOOD MAMDANI, Columbia University: You believe that recruitment of child soldiers has stopped because Luis Moreno-Ocampo took somebody to court?

MAN: Possibly reduced.

MAHMOOD MAMDANI: I don’t believe it.

The violence is not simply criminal, traceable to just individuals. But the violence is actually political and social. The violence is being reproduced by issues. And unless you address those issues, the violence will not come to an end.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: Lubanga case has impact in Ituri, but has impact in Nepal, has impact in Colombia. That is why in Colombia, they discuss child soldiers now. And that is why in Nepal they demobilized 3,000 kids. That is an impact.

MAN: All rise.

BARRY STEVENS: The first witness testifies in the Lubanga trial. His identity and voice are blurred for outsiders. But Lubanga can see him. The witness says that he was trained as a child soldier. But then the court comes back from a break, and suddenly the witness seems unsure.

FATOU BENSOUDA, deputy prosecutor: Witness, I want you to know that we are only interested in what happened to you and the truth. So please go ahead and tell us.

MAN (through translator): I would like to say what actually happened myself, not say what some other person intended me to say.

BARRY STEVENS: People in Congo are watching live by satellite. Many here still support Lubanga.

PRESIDING JUDGE: So, this morning, you told the court about a time when some soldiers came and took you and your friends away. Was that story from you true or false?

MAN (through translator): That’s not true.

BARRY STEVENS: Nobody knows why the first witness retracted that he was a child soldier, but it’s bad news for the prosecution team and a big story for the media.

DAVID CHARTER, The Times of London: I came here today because it was billed as the first witness, child soldier. I thought they would probably have lined up a star witness. The main prosecutor wasn’t here. I have heard he is in Davos, which surprises me. As far as I can tell, the first day was pretty shambolic.

BARRY STEVENS: In Ituri, Congo, the armed groups haven’t gone away. The guns of the U.N. and the Congolese government keep a kind of peace. But if people in Congo think witnesses are not telling the truth or the court’s not fair to both sides, violence could erupt again.

The Lubanga trial starts to go better for the prosecution. Many young witnesses testify that they were child soldiers for Thomas Lubanga.

WOMAN (through translator): We were taken forcefully. If you tried to refuse, you could be shot.

BARRY STEVENS: The Lubanga trial continues. The second Congo trial is under way. And a third trial is starting. Most of those indicted by the court are still free. And it seems unlikely that the prosecutor can ever really challenge the most powerful countries.

But nobody likes to see people getting away with terrible crimes. The court exists because that desire for justice doesn’t stop at the border. And if we want a less violent world, really, what alternative is there to the rule of law?

JEFFREY BROWN: In August, two-and-a-half years after Lubanga’s trial began, lawyers delivered closing arguments. Judges are now deliberating the verdict.

The film “Prosecutor” premieres on Documentary Channel on this coming Sunday, Oct. 9. And you can learn about The Economist Film Project or submit your own film at