Del Ponte Administers Justice

Del Ponte Administers Justice

Carla del Ponte: “I Have Never Served Anyone or Anything But the Law.”

There can be no peace, and hence, no democracy, where there is no rule of law, where human rights are violated, criminals run free and victims receive no redress. Justice is a key ingredient of democracy. And women have proven to be the key ingredient of justice. In 1999, United Nations Head Kofi Annan announced: "Justice is a woman."

He was talking about Carla del Ponte, the newly appointed General Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Del Ponte was already known as an incorruptible, relentless champion of justice, but she was yet to make history as one of the most important female prosecutors of our time.

Associated Press
Once compared to the Goddess of Justice, Prosecutor Carla del Ponte has also been given less complimentary names. Former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic labeled her the "new Gestapo," the Italian Mafia called her "la puttana" (the whore) and the Swiss banking establishment dubbed her "the misguided missile." View Larger >

Carla del Ponte's task was to hunt down and put on trial the top perpetrators of crimes committed during the wars in former Yugoslavia. She took her job seriously: She knew that justice was fundamental to building peace, reconciliation, and ultimately, democracy in the war-torn Balkan countries.

Del Ponte exploded on the international scene in the late 1980's. As a Swiss public prosecutor, she uncovered a criminal connection between Swiss bankers and the Mafia and fearlessly arrested and prosecuted their top-most members.

Her crusade for justice received worldwide attention in 1988, the year the Mafia attempted to assassinate her. Although they planted a huge amount of explosives in her home, she escaped unharmed. A colleague was less fortunate: Judge Giovanni Falcone did not survive the bomb planted in his car. Instead of scaring her, however, the tragedy of losing a friend only reinforced her zeal to prosecute the most powerful and most dangerous criminals.

In a BBC interview, she explained in her signature matter-of-fact tone: "I have no fears. I don't work with fears."

Prosecuting War Criminals

Starting in 1991, one civil war after another exploded in former Yugoslavia. A total of four wars in eight years plagued the small Balkan federation: in Slovenia (1991), in Croatia (1991-1995), in Bosnia (1992-1995) and in Kosovo (1996-1999). More than two million people were killed or displaced. Persecutions, deportations, plunder, murder, rape and torture were committed, to a varying degree, on all sides.

Genocide committed against the Muslim population in Srebrenica is remembered as the most shocking episodes of the wars: In July 1995, some 8,000 men and boys were executed by firing squads and thrown into mass graves.

While war was still raging in Croatia and Bosnia, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands. Del Ponte was appointed as its prosecutor in 1999.

Only one year into her mandate, she accomplished the inconceivable: She arrested and brought to trial Slobodan Milosevic, the President of Serbia. His arrest marked the first time in history that a sitting head of state was indicted and tried for war crimes.

"This Tribunal, and Milosevic's trial in particular, gives the most powerful demonstration that no one is above the law or beyond the reach of justice," said del Ponte in the documentary film Carla's List. "This may be the first time that I really feel that I am doing something constructive, something positive for society. It might finally be possible to abolish the impunity of the powerful."

Justice = Democracy

Until only a week ago, two of the most heinous war criminals were still at large: the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and the former Army Chief Ratko Mladic. But after 13 years spent in hiding, the most wanted man in Europe, Radovan Karadzic, was arrested in Belgrade on July 21, 2008. Everybody, including del Ponte who has since left the Tribunal, had given up hope of ever capturing him.

However, it was the initial indictment of these two men in 1995, and, as a result, their forceful removal from the political scene that has made democracy possible in the post-war Serbia.

"If that Tribunal was not created, today Mladic would be the Minister of Defense in this country and Karadzic would be demanding to be the president of Serbia. And we would not only be forced to secretly put up flyers on our city streets, but these two would be ruling over us. That Tribunal has made of us partially normal human beings. It has given us that much. Now we're possibly on the road to becoming moral beings if we actually get something done," said Mirjana Miocinovic, a prominent Serbian political activist

Has Justice Been Served?

Carla del Ponte claims that she has never served anyone or anything but the law. But that is not completely true. During her tenure at the Tribunal, del Ponte has always served the victims. They were always on her mind, and that is why she considered her failure to arrest Karadzic and Mladic as a great personal failure.

In November 1999, del Ponte met with the members of Women of Srebrenica, survivors of the genocide in Srebrenica. "I was a symbol of what they were asking for--justice," she said in a 2007 interview. "But I can tell you that I was humbled. Because that was a great responsibility that I had on my shoulders, especially knowing that Milosevic was still in power in Belgrade. I came out of this meeting greatly motivated about what we were doing, but also with a great responsibility."

The members of Women of Srebrenica, however, felt that justice had not been served during del Ponte's tenure because she was unable to apprehend the two warlords. Hatidza, a survivor of Srebrenica genocide was interviewed in Carla's List. She was grateful to the Tribunal but nevertheless believed that it has failed to give redress to the victims: "The Hague is the truth, but not the justice. In the Hague, truth is demonstrated, but justice is not satisfied."

Del Ponte, however, was not to blame, explained Hatidza. The politicians and the uncooperative international community were at fault: "Karadzic and Mladic will be apprehended only when it becomes politically expedient to do so. Right now, there is no political will to find them. When they do decide to arrest them, that day they will both be arrested. After all, they're not birds to fly away."

They were not birds and one never flew away. Karadzic was arrested on a Belgrade city bus, hiding under a robust, white beard. Although his capture took place a year after Carla del Ponte's mandate with the Tribunal ended, it is a powerful testimony to her work and legacy: During her eight years, she arrested 91 fugitives and prosecuted and convicted 48 of them. She knows that the Tribunal, and her own work, has set precedence for the future. Impunity will no longer be an option for the powerful.

Carla del Ponte has recently released a book The Hunt: Me and Military Criminals that details her experiences as the ICTY Prosecutor.

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