By: Katy Simonian
The Armenian National Community of America – Western Region (ANCA-WR) will honor legendary human rights activist and former ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo with the prestigious Champion of International Justice Award for his unequivocal support of preventing genocide in Artsakh and his lifetime of pursuing justice for crimes against humanity around the world. The Armenian community will have the opportunity to salute Ocampo’s trailblazing work at the 2023 Awards Gala which will take place on Sunday, November 12th at The Omni Hotel in Los Angeles.
Following nearly ten months of Azerbaijan’s illegal blockade of Artsakh and its military onslaught which resulted in the forced depopulation of Artsakh, the ANCA-WR Board seriously considered canceling this year’s Awards Gala. However, remembering the inspiring words of Artsakh Foreign Minister and last year’s Freedom Award honoree David Babayan, who is currently unlawfully imprisoned in Baku, the ANCA-WR Board decided that it must not show weakness in the face of Azeri aggression and that it must forge ahead in a show of unity and resilience against the injustices inflicted on our people, pledging to donate a portion of the proceeds toward humanitarian assistance for Artsakh genocide survivors.
A few short weeks ago, while speaking at a Congressional Hearing for the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Ocampo articulated a clear, declarative rejection of any refusal to call Azerbaijan’s actions against Artsakh a case of genocide in the name of preserving negotiations. “The negotiation is between a genocider and his victims. You cannot ask for a negotiation between Hitler and the people of Auschwitz. It’s not a negotiation. You have to stop Auschwitz and then discuss negotiation. And that, I think, is the secret here.”
Ocampo’s words and presence at the Congressional Hearing offered an unprecedented display of support from one of the world’s most influential figures in international criminal justice. The context he provides with his detailed report on the current conditions in Artsakh, including the blockade that has pushed 120,000 Armenians to the brink of starvation, demonstrates that the Azeri government is clearly and incontrovertibly attempting to commit genocide against Christian Armenians in Artsakh.
“You cannot be involved in negotiations when President Aliyev uses genocide as a method of negotiation,” says Luis Moreno Ocampo, as he continues to urge the Biden Administration to take a declarative stance to end Azerbaijan’s genocidal blockade of Artsakh.
Ocampo’s words carry a great deal of weight across the international community. A living legend who served as the First Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court from 2003-2012, Ocampo has been at the forefront of pursuing justice in the name of peace and democracy for over fifty years. Born in Argentina, Ocampo trained at the University of Bueno Aires before starting his career as a Prosecutor.
In 1985, he made history while serving as Assistant Prosecutor in the Trial of the Juntas, which prosecuted the heads of the military Juntas that governed Argentina during the country’s last military dictatorship in 1975. The prosecution proved criminal responsibility against former Presidents Jorge Rafael Videla and Roberto Viola, Admirals Emilio Massera and Armando Lambruschini, and Brigadier Orlando Agosti, who were all convicted on December 9, 1985. This was the first case since the Nuremberg Trials where miliary commanders faced accountability for mass killings of the country’s citizens. Argentina 1985, a film chronicling the harrowing efforts of Ocampo and his fellow prosecutors, was released in 2022 and is available on Amazon Prime after becoming Argentina’s official film submission for the Academy Awards.
Following the landmark prosecution, Ocampo continued his commitment to seeking justice against the Juntas who sought to flee prosecution and successfully facilitated the extradition of many, including General Guillermo Suárez Mason from California in 1988.
During the 1990s, he joined the private sector, whilst maintaining his commitment to human rights by taking on cases of corruption across the public and private sectors. His experience made him a prominent voice across the international community and he used his platform by hosting a television series, Fórum, la corte del Pueblo, which gave audiences a window into the process of mediation.
After years of serving as a jurist across the field of human rights, Ocampo made history in 2003 when he was unanimously elected as the first prosecutor of the newly founded International Criminal Court. During his nine-year tenure as prosecutor, he opened investigations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Kenya, as well as Darfur and Libya, at the request of the UN Security Council, and in Côte d’Ivoire at the request of national authorities. His unique insight and background equipped him with formidable antennae to pursue cases of crimes against humanity and leaders with a complete absence of empathy and regard for the law, chief among them being Omar al-Bashir who Ocampo accused of crimes against humanity in Darfur. His office prosecuted Bashir, after investigations proved he had caused the deaths of over 300,000 people including a UN peace keeping force.
Under his command, the first trial of the ICC resulted in the conviction of Thomas Lubanga, who was convicted of war crimes and the use of child soldiers in the Congo. As fate would have it, the legendary Ben Ferencz, who served as prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, closed the prosecution at age 93 – a fitting connection for Ocampo, who embraced the legacy of Nuremberg in seeking justice for his country of Argentina.
Ocampo went on to prosecute cases in Sudan and Kenya, with his trademark steadfast dedication to holding those in power accountable for their actions and maintaining a strong stance against corruption that would cause harm to developing democracy. As the first prosecutor, he set crucial precedents for what is possible when achieving international criminal justice, proving that victims of crimes against humanity can and must be heard in order to heal and to prevent future crimes.
After his term at the ICC was complete, he carried on with his groundbreaking work, applying pressure to the UN Security Council in many high-profile cases, as he joined the campaign group Yazda, which sought to persuade heads of state to recognize the crime of genocide in support of the Yazidi community of Iraq. He is a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University and a senior fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University.
As a man of immense humility and grit, he has never chosen to shy away from challenging cases or be discouraged by the often-deafening silence of the international community on matters of genocide prevention. His presence, speaking truth to power on behalf of the Armenian community has been quite impactful. “This is an ongoing genocide. This is happening now,” he told the Congressional hearing. “Genocide under Article IIC requires just creating the conditions to destroy a people … blocking the Lachin Corridor with its life systems for the Nagorno-Karabakh people is exactly creating those conditions.” His words offer a stern warming to the United States against any complicity in what is clearly an act of genocide by all legal and moral standards.
“Having the support of Luis Moreno Ocampo during one of the darkest moments in our history offers all Armenians a sense of hope, knowing that a human rights defender of his caliber is committed to protecting the people of Artsakh and securing the safety of the Armenian homeland. History will remember him as a man of honor who spoke the truth, sounding the alarm to prevent crimes against humanity in the name of justice,” says ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq. “We salute Mr. Ocampo and continue to urge lawmakers across the United States and around the world to heed his word and take action in preventing further crimes against humanity in Artsakh.”
After the most recent horrors that took place in Artsakh which saw Azerbaijan’s forces attack innocent civilians, forcing over 100,000 Armenians to flee their ancestral lands, Ocampo voiced his position once again in a scathing article in the Washington Post, condemning international complacency in failing to prevent a second Armenian Genocide. His article calls for international intervention and the need for acknowledge the crime of genocide, writing “The world must call the crime by its proper name. Resistance to using the term “genocide” has been a long-standing problem in international affairs. In April 1994, most U.N. Security Council members refused to label the mass killings in Rwanda as genocide. Little has changed in thirty years.” Ocampo’s command of the geopolitical nuances at the backdrop of international complacency is matched only by the clarity with which he condemns all who are willfully complicit in allowing what he calls “the Armenian genocide of 2023” to occur.
One of the greatest enemies of progress is the cold, glazed wall of indifference. Such walls cannot be broken with force, but rather with the blazing light of truth, melting barriers of injustice and fear. Luis Moreno Ocampo has dedicated his life to being a light for those without a voice in order to create spaces in which people may be heard and justice can be accomplished. The light he continues to shine on the people of Artsakh serves as a warning for all nations and a call to action to prevent genocide from ever again occurring in the name of global accountability and peace.
For more information about Luis Moreno Ocampo’s extraordinary work for global human rights, genocide prevention and justice, and to purchase tickets for the 2023 ANCA-Western Region Awards Gala, please click here. A portion of the proceeds from this year’s gala will be donated to support Artsakh Genocide survivors.
The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region is the largest and most influential nonpartisan Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues in pursuit of the Armenian Cause.
Katy Simonian is a member of the 2023 ANCA-Western Region Awards Banquet/Gala Committee.