Global Policy Forum

International Justice in the Dock


By Sylvie Arsever

Le Temps
September 7, 2007

In a new book, published in France, the former spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor in the Hague War Crimes Tribunal, reveals the maneuvers and obstructions that have paralyzed the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The book is an implacable indictment, supported by hard facts until now held in secret, in the literary genre of burning bridges in the name of the truth. Florence Hartmann was a correspondent for Le Monde during the Balkans bloodbath of the 1990's and later the spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte of the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). She recounts how the Tribunal was manipulated, weakened and undermined according to the political wishes of the big powers, an operation that, according to her, had solid go-betweens every step of the way.

When Slobodan Milosevic arrived in The Hague on June 29, 2001, the judicial victory over political imperatives was attributed to the firm hand of America. In fact, it was largely the result of an accord between the Chief Prosecutor and Zoran Djindjic, the Serbian Prime Minister assassinated on March 12, 2003. While the role of Slobodan Milosevic in the crimes committed in Kosovo was under investigation, his responsibility for crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Croatia between 1991 and 1995 remained unexamined. The court was not expecting his arrest and was unprepared. Neither did it believe Milosevic was directly implicated in the two major crimes of the Bosnian war: the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre.

Furthermore, the accusation of genocide, according to the team directing the legal process, should have been abandoned as being too difficult to prove. They accordingly worked along this line, even though it meant sabotaging their boss's orders.

This trench warfare, recalls Florence Hartmann, had two origins. The routine of a body accustomed to avoiding political intrigues by pursuing mainly little fish. Making things worse was the remote control by the Americans and the British who had peppered the tribunal with their citizens, some of whom had served in the intelligence services of their respective countries.

They delivered the documents in their possession piecemeal, allowed Serbia to keep its in the dark. One investigator ended up, despite everything, having access to the minutes of a meeting of Belgrade's Supreme Defense Council which attested to the direct and active participation of Slobodan Milosevic in the war carried out by the Bosnian Serbs in Pale. These documents were finally transmitted to the ITCY but on condition that the most incriminating points remain secret and not delivered to the International Criminal Court. In another case brought by the Bosnian government that ended in February 2007, that Court found Serbia not directly implicated in genocide.

Carla Del Ponte also depended on the big powers for arresting fugitives, chiefly those who were mainly responsible for ethnic cleansing, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Faced with repeated requests for assistance from the Prosecutor, the Americans, British and French passed the buck, each accusing the other of making pacts with the guilty parties. In reality, says Florence Hartmann, it was their own responsibility in the crimes themselves that they attempted to mask by obstructionist strategies. Establishing the responsibility of Milosevic at Srebrenica, meant showing that the crime was closely followed in Western capitals. To judge Karadzic and Mladic was to enter into the details of this complicity.

In the beginning, however, the ICTY had a certain utility. It symbolized international virtue and in the Balkans, played the role of a useful Damocles' sword when it came to encouraging the new leaders towards greater cooperation. After September 11, the climate changed. Victim of the growing hostility of the United States toward the International Criminal Court, the Tribunal became an obstacle to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. At that point Florence Hartmann left the Tribunal to write her book.

Translated and adapted from the French by Pamela Taylor

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia
More Information on Slobodan Milosevic
More Information on Radovan Karadzic
More Information on Ratko Mladic
More Information on the International Criminal Court


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