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

Del Ponte Assesses Tribunal's Work

Chief prosecutor says court has clearly demonstrated that political and military leaders “cannot commit serious crime with impunity”.
By Daniel Barron
Hague tribunal’s chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte visited Brussels last week, where she met with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn to discuss current issues related to former Yugoslav states’ cooperation with the prosecutor’s office.

Del Ponte also offered an assessment of the tribunal’s work over the last eight years in a speech at the European Policy Center.

In her speech, Del Ponte rebuffed allegations that attempts to try senior political and military leaders could interfere with peacemaking efforts in the region, pointing out that the arrests and trials of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and Kosovo’s ex-prime minister Ramush Haradinaj had not destabilised the region.

Del Ponte said the tribunal had clearly demonstrated that political and military leaders “cannot commit serious crime with impunity”, and that “there is no fundamental contradiction between peace and justice”.

Other achievements of the tribunal cited by Del Ponte included concluding proceedings in 106 of 161 indictments made since the court’s inception in 1993; contributing to the development of international criminal and humanitarian law;

establishing rape as a war crime and a crime against humanity; and leaving developed case law that national and international courts will be able to draw upon.

However, Del Ponte did admit that the tribunal’s most notorious suspects, Bosnian Serb leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, remained at large.

According to Del Ponte, the Hague tribunal had concentrated on prosecuting the most senior leaders suspected of involvement in crimes under its jurisdiction, but had worked “intensely” with authorities in the former Yugoslavia to facilitate the trials of low-ranking suspects in national courts.

She added that although progress had been made in domestic prosecutions, the international community should remain vigilant in monitoring these proceedings.

Del Ponte also rejected accusations that the tribunal had been slow or inefficient, emphasising the fact that this court had to investigate and prosecute large-scale crimes with no police or enforcement agents; no witness-protection programme; a mixture of common law and civil law procedure; and relatively limited resources.

On the issue of witness protection, Del Ponte said she felt that the adversarial process, which allows for aggressive cross-examinations of witnesses, was ill-suited to war-crimes tribunals due to the nature of the crimes prosecuted, and said she was happy to see that the International Criminal Court had different procedures in this arena.

Concluding, Del Ponte said that the tribunal’s successful arrests of fugitive suspects in the former Yugoslav states were almost entirely the result of pressure from the international community, particularly the EU. She urged a continuation of the EU’s position in this regard, explicitly calling upon the organisation not to sign a key accession agreement with Serbia until it had arrested Mladic.

She added that despite the tribunal’s impressive achievements, it could not bring stability and reconciliation on its own, and could not claim to have completed its work until Mladic and Karadzic were brought to justice.

Daniel Barron is an IWPR reporter in London.

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