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Chief Prosecutor Pleads for International Cooperation

Del Ponte tells her farewell press conference that prosecutors cannot function without international support.
Carla Del Ponte, pleased but frustrated after eight years as chief prosecutor for war crimes in The Hague, said this week that international cooperation is key to catching the last fugitives from justice.

“International prosecutors cannot function without the support of states, without political support. We depend on their good will,” Del Ponte told reporters at her final press conference before she stands down at the end of the month.

Despite having taken 91 war crimes suspects into custody during her tenure, former Bosnian Serb leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic have eluded her grasp. Both men are charged with genocide in Srebrenica, where 8,000 Bosniak civilians were killed by Serb forces in July 1995.

“The fact that Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are still at large is a stain on our work,” said Del Ponte.

The tribunal has achieved some important landmarks since she took up her post in September 1999. The court recognised the massacre at Srebrenica as genocide, and ruled that the siege of Sarajevo was a war crime.

But Del Ponte feels she lacked the full support of the international community in bringing individuals to justice. And without such support she feels Karadzic and Mladic will never face trial for their crimes.

“It is extremely important that the European Union put political pressure on Belgrade to arrest [them],” she said.

Brussels has linked potential Serbian membership of the EU to Belgrade’s continuing cooperation with the war crimes court: a policy it calls “conditionality”.

“I hope that the European Union will continue to support this institution and maintain its conditionality until that happens. The tribunal must not close its doors before all remaining fugitives are brought to justice.”

However, Del Ponte confirmed that her office was making preparations with war crimes prosecutors in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia for their judiciaries to be able to conduct trials of war crimes suspects.

“The most important result of all of this is that no one who has committed crimes should sleep peacefully,” she said.

Del Ponte said there were other lessons that could also be learnt from her time in The Hague. She advocated that the cross examination of victims be abolished on compassionate grounds and that the process of presenting evidence be speeded up by initially presenting it in written or visual form.

The departing prosecutor concluded by paying tribute to the victims of the crimes heard at the tribunal.

“When we met with them we got the necessary energy and power to continue this work,” she said.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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