Luis Moreno-Ocampo has more than a billion clients. He is the first prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, whose authority to prosecute those who commit crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide is acknowledged by more than 110 nations. (But not the United States -- the U.S. signed the treaty, and then "unsigned" it.) Before he joined the ICC, he was famous for prosecuting politicians and generals for mass murder in his native Argentina. With his nine-year ICC term nearly finished, the first of the international cases he's filed -- against Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga -- still awaits a verdict. In Argentina, he had his own reality show; now, he's the subject of a new Canadian documentary, and his role is the subject of worldwide interest.
Is there a mismatch between the legal authority you have and your lack of enforcement power?
You need both. You need the law and the force. The force has to follow the law. We respect national sovereignty, so we don't send armies. We request the national police to implement [ICC] warrants, in the same way a federal judge issues instructions and the police implement. It's working well in many instances; in other case[s], more difficult. Joseph Kony [a Ugandan guerrilla leader indicted for crimes against humanity] is at large in the bush, surrounded by militias. Then you have the Sudan case, [with the ICC] warrant [for President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir], and of course the president has not given the order to arrest himself!
It's a process in which we are not fighting with weapons; we are encouraging the law, and it will take time, but we will prevail.
Some people score your tenure and say you haven't put anyone in prison. Is it about process versus outcome?
In Kenya we don't have a trial yet [the ICC has named six Kenyan leaders as suspects in the killings of hundreds in 2007] but we have a huge impact in terms of understanding that the law will apply. People are glued to the TV following the case [of Lubanga]. I was well known in Kenya in the last year, but now the judge is a [famous] figure. They have a [cartoon] show; I was in [it] but now the judge is the center of the show. [Kenyans] are following the trial; they are learning the issues. For them it's incredible.
And for the miscreants? Is it about deterrence too?
The threat that you can be prosecuted -- this is having a great impact.
You're criticized for picking on Africa when there are abuses around the world.
[This comes from] Bashir; this is propaganda. Joseph Kony was for 20 years abducting children in Uganda and forming them into child soldiers [in his Lord's Resistance Army] or sex slaves. He abducted girls from the schools to give as wives to his commanders. Imagine that happening in the U.S. Five times he did it; no one cared. We cared. We don't ignore African victims because they are African. We protect them. If the killers are African, I will prosecute them.
When you leave the ICC , how should your successor build on what you began?
The [member] states select a successor, and the most important thing is that they trust the prosecutor. It's not for me to define who [it] should be. What I am aiming to provide for my successor is a well-functioning office. My job was to build the institution, to put it in motion.
What's in your mailbag?
A teacher in Malaysia regularly sends letters she produces with her students. They read newspapers of the world and send [clippings about] what they consider to be very bad. For a while we had a lot of Germans wanting us to prosecute [former German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder for tax evasion. We do not have jurisdiction for tax evasion! It's fascinating; we are a symbol. All over the world, people are concerned, and they find we are there to help them.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Moammar Kadafi, but he was captured and killed.
I think it would be great to have [had] Kadafi on trial. We got evidence on Kadafi and [his son] Seif [Islam]. It was the fastest investigation we did. We started in February and the warrant was issued in June. We showed [that] Kadafi was keep[ing] control [by] attacking civilians. How he was killed is something we are discussing with the Libyan authorities. We would like to arrest Seif [Islam] and put him on trial. That would be a good end.
When you prosecuted former Argentinian President and Gen. Jorge Videla for human rights abuses and other crimes, your own mother initially said he was a good guy. There are millions of people like your mother, right?
Absolutely -- massive atrocities are committed by people who say they are defending their own group. When I prosecuted Gen. Videla, my mother was saying, "Gen. Videla was defending us from the guerrillas." And this is why I believe in trials. I cannot convince my mother. My mother was convinced when she saw the witnesses. She called and said, "I still love Gen. Videla, but you are right. He has to be in jail." That's why I believe in the judicial process. The conviction is important, but the most important thing is people understanding what is happening.
You also starred in a reality show in Argentina.
We did a survey and 10% of the country said they learned to resolve conflict through this program, so for me it was educational -- how to use TV to educate people in the law and resolution of conflict. The law is not for prosecutors or judges. The law is for people, and that was my point in this TV show. The cases were very small, two neighbors debating over a wall, but for them it was important. But our plan is we should include these issues in the schools. That's a more permanent education.
How do you explain Americans' evident reluctance to work with international political organizations?
I lived in this country many years. The root of this country distrusts power. You trust your Congress but no one else. So it's difficult for you to trust other countries when you feel, "We have a pretty good system, and the others [don't]." For that reason you don't trust in the law outside your borders.
But in some ways, from "Perry Mason" to "Law & Order," your TV teaches the world about the law, and people like [it]. The Libya rebellion started [with people] looking for justice. People love this idea of respect and dignity. It's basic. Now you're confronted with [its] success. You exported the idea of justice.
You've said it may be an advantage sometimes that the U.S. is not a signatory to the ICC's functions.
The court should be universal. But it will take some time. In the meantime, what I can show is that this is the first institution created without the big powers. Basically the countries that suffer the problems [have created] a new system. The U.S. always complains about the lack of efficiency of multilateral organizations -- the ICC is a highly efficient organization that the U.S. is not paying [for]. My point is the U.S. learned they cannot manage all the countries in the world. This institution is helping.
You've warned that if global criminal organizations aren't stopped, they could run 60% of the world.
I was in Mexico and [a] minister told me, "In the '80s we were saying, poor Colombia, look at the problems they have. Mexico is different because we're just a place they go through. They bribe a little; we did not take it seriously. Now a little bribing became a big problem."
Mexico was furious because Forbes put as one of the 100 most important persons a [Sinaloa drug cartel] guy. Mexicans say this is crazy. They have to control crime, and promoting a [cartel] leader as one of the most impressive guys in the world is really bad.
What did you mean when you said no one is in charge on issues like climate change?
We have global problems with no global government. [So] I think [international] organizations became more important. These are Facebook times. At Facebook, we are a global community, with the same goal -- no more atrocities.
This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. Interview archive: latimes.com/pattasks.