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Carla Del Ponte: Appointment And Initial Appearance

Tribunal Update 138: Last Week in The Hague (9-15 August 1999)

Carla Del Ponte was billed as a "shock prosecutor" in the European press last week, after the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1259 during a session which lasted a mere three minutes and which appointed Switzerland's Attorney-General as Prosecutor of the international criminal tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The same resolution noted " with regret the resignation of Mrs. Louise Arbour taking effect on 15 September 1999."

Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, the ICTY president, published a statement welcoming the unanimous appointment of Carla Del Ponte."

"As an experienced Prosecutor", Judge McDonald stated, "Carla Del Ponte brings considerable skills and practical knowledge to the position." The ICTY President is "confident that she will build on the important work of her predecessors." A short biographical note on the new Chief Prosecutor accompanied the ICTY statement:

"A national of Switzerland, Carla Del Ponte was born in Lugano on 9 February 1947. She joins the ICTY and the ICTR from her previous position as Swiss Attorney-General, to which she was appointed in 1994. Prior to that, she worked as an investigating magistrate from September 1981 and later became a public prosecutor, working with the office of the Lugano District Attorney.

"Since 1981, she has been involved in various high profile cases, including organized crime, financial and economic crimes, terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, illegal trafficking in arms, as well as international legal assistance. "Fluent in four languages (English, French, Italian and German), she has participated at a number of international conferences and has written various articles in different languages."

In her initial appearance before reporters as the Chief Prosecutor-designate, Carla Del Ponte said that her main task was securing the arrest of those wanted for war crimes. But, she added, it would also prove to be the most difficult.

Of 65 publicly accused so far, 30 are currently in detention in The Hague. Of the others, nine are known to be in Serbia: President Milosevic and his "Gang of Four" co-accused, "Vukovar troika" of the officers of the JNA, Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" and General Ratko Mladic.

Naletilic is known to be in the Zagreb prison or in the prison hospital and the remaining 24 - including Radovan Karadzic are either known or assumed to be hiding somewhere in Bosnia, mostly on the territory of Republika Srpska.

Carla Del Ponte did not specify whom, and, how, she will persuade that all of them should be in custody in the Detention Unit, but she did promise to do everything within her powers to see them there.

The new Prosecutor admitted that she had no idea how many sealed indictments she would find upon her arrival and explained that her first task when she arrives sometime this week would be to familiarise herself with the materials so she would be ready to officially take over from Louise Arbour next month.

"Twenty years of work have established that I have never been at the service of anyone except the law," Del Ponte told journalists at the UN in Geneva. "I plan to continue to work in this way. It makes for many enemies, but that doesn't matter, that's what we are here for."

Asked about threats she has received which has meant she is presently the only public figure in Switzerland who is under permanent police protection, she replied: "I'm not afraid, no, because if it is so I wouldn't have stayed where I have in Bern. I have been working on inquiries for 20 years. You don't have a feeling of courage. It is just a job like any other. You do it."

Pointing to traits that made him propose her for the post, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, referred to her "courage" as well as her "experience, independence and legal professionalism." To that, others have added "persistence and stubbornness". The late Italian judge, Giovanni Falcone, who together with her was a target of an assassination attempt by the mafia in 1988, described Del Ponte as the "personification of stubbornness."

Judging by what was said and written about her over the previous days, it seems that the Hague Tribunal and its "clients", those individuals most responsible for war crimes in former Yugoslavia, have four exciting, even "shocking" years ahead.

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