Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Carla Del Ponte's First Press Conference After 100 Days In Office

Tribunal Update 157: Last Week in The Hague (December 20-24, 1999)

For in her previous job as Swiss Confederation state prosecutor Del Ponte had earned, rightfully or not, a reputation for allowing her investigations to be driven by media publicity.

But it was no joke. One hundred days later, December 22, Del Ponte duly called her first press conference and explained that she had been "reluctant to make public statements" before getting an overview of the working of the Yugoslav and Rwandan Tribunals in general and the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) in particular.

This done, she could say that she was "very impressed by the activity of both Tribunals". Del Ponte stuck to the script, her pre-prepared statement, and would not be diverted by media questioning. But there was much in what she read out to give clues to her likely direction as chief prosecutor, and a few important novelties.

For the first time since the ICTY was founded, the Prosecutor publicly revealed the number of the investigations that her office is conducting or intends to conduct.

"It is my estimate," Del Ponte said, "that approximately 36 investigations must be completed before the Prosecutor can indicate to the Security Council that our investigative mandate is exhausted. At present 19 investigations have begun which means that a further 17 have to be started. We expect that these will be finished progressively over the next 4 years, by the end of 2004.

"We anticipate this will involve around 150 suspects, almost all at a high level of responsibility. Some of these investigations will lead to new indictments - and I hope more arrests - next year."

The investigations cover crimes committed during the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. As far as Kosovo was concerned, Del Ponte underscored that the ICTY's "jurisdiction is open-ended" and that the OTP "must deal with new crimes if they are committed. That means that in Kosovo we will not only look at crimes committed by Serbs". And she added: "We will also investigate allegations against the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army)".

She said her top priority would be the arrest of "leading figures" still at liberty. "That issue has been on my agenda at every meeting I have held in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere, and early in the New Year I will begin a further series of high level meetings with key Governments to discuss the practical issues involved.

"I plan to be very active on this issue, because everything depends upon indicted persons being arrested and brought to trial. I therefore plan to visit London, Paris and Washington and also to visit NATO Headquarters in Brussels."

Del Ponte said she would continue the OTP's current policy of seeking sealed 'secret' indictments so that the accused does not try to "place themselves beyond the reach of the Tribunal". In addition, using experience acquired in Switzerland in identifying bank accounts held by suspects, Del Ponte says she will take "what steps I can" to ensure that the "wealthy accused" do not use their funds to escape justice.

"No single measure will solve the arrest issue," she said. "We must address it simultaneously on many fronts, we must be creative in seeking solutions, and as time passes we must not forget the horrendous nature of the crimes that are within the Tribunal's jurisdiction."

Asked how far the ICTY and the international community could be "creative" in methods of securing arrests, Del Ponte would not be drawn. Instead she said this issue would be discussed during her upcoming visit to NATO's Brussels HQ and other Western capitals. But she said she would request the NATO-led SFOR force in Bosnia to be "a bit more active" and to form "special military police" units that would search for the accused.

Del Ponte also said she would "continue to press for action to be taken against any State that refuses to co-operate with my Office in its investigations.

"The obligations of States to comply with their obligations under international law are very clear, and the international community must not tolerate any obstruction of the mandate given to the Tribunal. Where I find such opposition to our work, I will continue to report the situation to the President of this Tribunal for the attention of the Security Council...

"It is imperative that the Security Council, our parent body, supports our efforts, and I am surprised that it has not yet acted upon the report of Croatia's failure to co-operate with my investigations into allegations of crimes committed during and after Operations Flash and Storm."

In contrast Del Ponte noticed "encouraging signs of co-operation" with the authorities in Republika Srpska. "I have discussed the policy of sealed indictments with them, and they know my position.

"If this co-operation continues, I am ready, in cases where some accused have already been arrested, but sealed indictments exist against co-accused, to reveal to the RS authorities the identity of those sealed co-accused, if the RS authorities are prepared to guarantee their co-operation in making arrangements for the arrest of these fugitives."

For the year 2000, Del Ponte predicted some "significant" trials involving evidence on matters never before considered by the Tribunal. "We will see new chapters of evidence unfold concerning, for example, Srebrenica and the campaign in and around Sarajevo itself," she said.

"You will begin to see the concrete results of a great deal of work that has been going on behind the scenes for many months. And you will also continue to see the development of our trial procedures because I am eager to find new ways in which we can draw on the best elements of the common law and civil law traditions.

"Both here and in Rwanda we are rapidly building a unique legal system of which we can justifiably be proud."

Asked for her view on the fact that former Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic had still not been arrested, Del Ponte admitted that she had "been asking herself the same question" ever since taking office. She said she would seek an answer from the political and military authorities of NATO.

Del Ponte also responded to reported comments by Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, who likened the Tribunal to the World War II Nazi German Gestapo secret police and described The Hague Tribunal's detention unit as "a sophisticated replacement for concentration camps and crematoria".

"If I could speak with Madame Milosevic," Del Ponte said, "I would tell her to invite her husband to the detention centre to see how comfortable it is."

She also replied to reported charges that the OTP was "sexually biased" as it was yet to accuse a woman, even though it has been alleged that some women instigated or otherwise aided and abetted war crimes in Bosnia. Del Ponte pointed out that some women had been so accused in Rwanda, but that there was insufficient evidence to make such charges in Bosnia - but called on those who believe they have such evidence to submit it to her.