PRESS CONFERENCE BY OUTGOING PROSECUTOR CARLA DEL PONTE ON INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL FOR FORMER YUGOSLAVIA
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
10 December 2007
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia should not close its door without having arrested the fugitives, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, and the best way the Security Council could help the Tribunal was to take the decision today to stay open until those arrests were made, Carla del Ponte, the Tribunal’s outgoing Prosecutor, said today at a Headquarters press conference.
Ms. del Ponte, who was briefing correspondents on the final address she had made earlier to the Security Council in her capacity as the Tribunal’s Prosecutor,was joined by David Tolbert, the Deputy Prosecutor, and her spokesperson, Olga Kavran, who explained that Ms. Del Ponte had been appointed to head the Tribunal in 1999. Her mandate had been renewed in 2003, and then extended earlier this year. She would be stepping down at the end of this year. Serge Brammertz had been appointed to replace her.
Although the Tribunal had achieved much with 91 of the accused arrested and transferred to The Hague, it was a great disappointment that Karadzic and Mladic remained at large, Ms. del Ponte said. After Milosevic, they were the two individuals most responsible for the crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia.
With the two still at large, the Prosecutor said it was now up to the Security Council to decide whether closing the Tribunal was justified or not, considering that its mandate stated that those most responsible for the war crimesmust be tried, and Karadzic and Mladic were the most responsible.
Asserting that the European Union could apply the “perfect level of pressure” on Serbia to arrest Mladic and Karadzic through the signature agreement for membership to the Union, she said that the Security Council and the European Union should attach Serbia’s membership into the Union to the arrest of the two suspected war criminals. The two indictees, particularly Mladic, should be in The Hague for Serbia to be considered to be in full cooperation with the court, and it was in the Council’s hands as to whether the Tribunal would be considered successful in applying international justice or not.
Mr. Tolbert agreed that, since certain key members of the Council were part of the European Union, they should urge the Union to make the arrests of Karadzic and Mladic a condition for Serbia’s accession to the Union. He also agreed with the Prosecutor that, until those arrests were made, the Tribunal’s doors should remain open. The Prosecutor had made a very impassioned and clear case for that in the Security Council, he recalled for correspondents.
Overall, she had a tremendous record at the Tribunal. Of the 161 people indicted, all but four had been processed, with their cases having been tried, transferred or dropped, he said. Most of the court’s success had come during Ms. Del Ponte’s mandate, thanks to the very strong pressure she had put on the concerned States. As a result, the new Prosecutor would inherit an office that was functioning very well.
Replying to a correspondent’s question, Ms. Del Ponte said that she had presented a letter she had received from mothers of victims in Srebrenica to the President of the Security Council, at the request of the letter writers. In the letter, the women had asked the Council not to close down the Tribunal. The letter was a request from the side of the victims, and she agreed with its content.
In principle, all members of the Security Council were telling the Tribunal to do its best to conclude its cases and trials by 2010, she said. That meant that the Tribunal must do all it could to be finished by that date. That was still an open issue, however, as the Council would have to decide on the importance of the arrest of Karadzic and Mladic. A formal decision should be taken as to whether the Tribunal should stay open because it was expecting Karadzic and Mladic to be arrested, which was a possibility, or it should close down but exist as a residual mechanism that could restart when the two were arrested.
She said that the best option would be for the Tribunal to continue until the two were arrested. She was confident that the two could be arrested in a matter of weeks if there was help from the international community and if there was political pressure. In that connection, the Tribunal had been grateful for the presence of journalists, as their work had been an added element of pressure on the international community.
To another question, she said that the non-arrest of Mladic and Karadzic could be blamed on the international community and on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the period from 1995, when the arrest warrantswere issued, until 1997. At that time, the two were moving freely, and nobody arrested them because the instruction had been not to arrest them. There were different reasons for that instruction, which probably came from NATO capitals. It would have been very easy to arrest them at that time, but it had probably been a political decision not to do so.
After that instruction changed, the two could no longer be arrested, as they went into hiding in Serbia because, at that time, in 1998/1999, Slobodan Milosevic was in power there and it was the best territory for them to hide. Karadzic remained there until 2004, while Mladic still remained there. Thus, today, Serbia was to blame for the non-arrest of Mladic “for certain”. It was not clear where Karadzic was at the moment, but he remained in the region.
She added that, at present, the two possible impediments to the arrest of Mladic were the upcoming presidential election in Serbia in January and the possible independence of Kosovo. She had been trying to persuade Serbia to give up Mladic before those events. He was in immediate reach of Belgrade and once he could be arrested, the others would follow easily.
To another questions, Ms. Del Ponte said that she had met with the representative of the Russian Federation, but she had not discussed that country’s role in pressuring Serbia.
Asked about the reported difficulties between the Tribunal and the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Ms. Del Ponte said that the court had faced a lot of difficulties with the United Nations Mission, particularly in connection with the former High Representative’s friendship with Ramush Haradinaj, former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army and former Prime Minister of Kosovo. The Tribunal had found it “stupefying” that security had depended on Haradinaj, a war criminal. The Tribunal had investigated him, issued an indictment and received a confirmation.
Even before the trial started, the Prosecutor had informed the High Representative that Haradinaj was under investigation and that an indictment would be issued a few weeks after he became Prime Minister, she continued. For the Tribunal’s witnesses, there was great concern, and the friendship between him and the High representative had had a “chilling” effect.
Mr. Tolbert added that things were now better in terms of the relations with UNMIK at the working level. The Tribunal had had to compel or subpoena a third of the testimony of all the witnesses that had testified. That level of intimidation of witnesses and concern for security had not been seen anywhere else in the region. The friendship with the High Representative had indeed had a chilling impact, particularly in a country where everyone knew each other and where retribution was often, not just to the immediate family, but to more distant relatives. It was a serious problem and a huge challenge to the Prosecutor to present her case when witnesses were in such fear that they refused to testify.
On Croatia, Ms. Del Ponte said that the Vukovar judgement had been a surprise both in terms of the sentence and the acquittal. The Tribunal had appealed against the sentences, but not against the acquittal, not because it did not believe that they should have been declared guilty, but because such an appeal was not legally possible. The Tribunal hoped to be able to reverse the sentences.
The trial of the Gotovina troika (Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac) would start next year, in the spring. The Tribunal was ready with the bulk of its evidence. The problem for the Tribunal was to be able to present all the witnesses and evidence in court. Sometimes, witnesses were intimidated, bribed or convinced to change their testimony. Thus, the Tribunal sought to have many witnesses so as to be able to confirm what each one was saying. Ante Gotovina had been arrested after four years of searching. Thus, the Prosecutor did not want him to be released with the risk of starting to search for him all over again. It was true that mujahedeem were active in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war there, but the Tribunal had no evidence that they had been paid to come.
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For information media • not an official record
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