The Reckoning

PBS Premiere: July 14, 2009Check the broadcast schedule »

Interview with Christine Chung

In this additional video from The Reckoning, Christine Chung, former senior trial attorney for the International Criminal Court (ICC), talks about what led her to work for the ICC, how her experiences prosecuting gangs in New York City prepared her to prosecute some of the worst crimes in the world and her hopes for the future of the court.


What led you to become a lawyer?

Christine Chung:The part of law that I really love is oral argument, and then the writing — the drafting, the briefing.

Why is that?

Chung:Because there's a lot of beauty in language. And when you're using language to reach an objective, it can be a very challenging, and — when it's done right — a very satisfying thing.

Was there any particular case that led you here to the International Criminal Court?

Chung:I think the cases that prepared me, probably — put me on a trajectory to come here — were cases that I worked on in the Bronx and in Chinatown that were organized-crime cases against violent gangs. And a lot of the worst crimes being committed in the world today, in places other than the United States, really have characteristics that are like [gangs]. It's like gang-like behavior. You call it "organized crime," but really what you mean is that it's disorganized mayhem. The leaders in these big conflicts never believe that they will ever be brought to justice. They operate in places where the idea of going to jail is like: Ha, I might go to jail. That's a joke.

When you first came to the court, is it what you thought it would be?

Chung:I think people do feel the anxiety at some level. People are very committed, but the responsibility of carrying on this dream that people had for a court like this does weigh on your shoulders heavily at different times, different moments.

What's the war about in Uganda?

Chung:What war, in this time and age, goes on for 20 years? And I think, really, the only answer is, you know, there's evil at work. There really is. When people set out to hurt each other, the fact that you're in the 21st century doesn't help you a lot — or doesn't necessarily help you a lot.

The arrest warrants that the International Criminal Court has handed down, is that having an effect on the conflict in Uganda?

Chung:So many of the people that we interviewed have never spoken to anybody about being abducted by the LRA, and the years that they sometimes spend in the LRA. And just the idea that they're being allowed to describe their victimization, and that somebody's listening to them — somebody whom they consider to be somebody who might be able to do something about it — is an extraordinary thing for the people who live there.

How do you explain to friends and relatives what the International Criminal Court is, and do they seem to understand?

Chung:People love to think hierarchically. So when you tell people it's an international criminal court, they automatically think, oh, you're at the top. You know, your job is to be the king court of all courts. You're the king global permanent court. And, in fact, that's untrue. We're more like a court at the bottom that catches the cases that fall through because other states, or countries, are unwilling or unable to do them themselves.

What do you hope that the court will become?

Chung:We will exist forever. And so the question is: In what way do we muscle into the current dynamic, and then create a different dynamic where people think about lasting accountability? And that's not an easy thing to accomplish. But I think it's very hopeful that there is one small entity, based in The Hague, that does nothing but think about that question — and does nothing but pressure and cajole and nag other people to think about that question. And, hopefully, by doing that we can create even more consensus around the idea that the problem of impunity, and of bringing accountability, really needs to be tackled — at least for the most serious crimes that exist.

This additional video exclusive to the POV website is courtesy of Skylight Pictures.