Western Promises | The Nation


Western Promises

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Despite a series of attempts by Western and even ICTY emissaries to persuade Karadzic to surrender to The Hague and pledges of stepped-up efforts to catch him by intelligence services, Del Ponte began to harbor doubts about the major powers' commitment to their obligation. So in 2002 she decided to set up a small team to track down the fugitives. Hartmann recounts how those efforts were undermined on several occasions. On January 28, 2004, Del Ponte learned from a senior Serbian source that Karadzic was in Belgrade and that the local authorities had agreed to hand him over. The French were asked to help transfer him to The Hague, but the Americans intervened, claiming that the Serb official involved was drunk. The next day, according to Hartmann, Del Ponte warned US ambassador for war crimes Pierre Richard Prosper, "Find a way to get Karadzic and Mladic back. I don't want to know what happened yesterday because everyone is lying to me. But I want them both. Karadzic is still in Belgrade, and it's not too late to act." Prosper said he would consult with his government; two days later he called Del Ponte to inform her that he had obtained a green light from the Bush Administration to act on reliable information, Hartmann says. Seeing no action, Del Ponte decided on February 9 to tell the press that Karadzic was in Belgrade. US officials reacted furiously and interrupted all communications with her office for several weeks. Prosper forcefully denies that such a confrontation between him and Del Ponte or such a communications breakdown ever occurred. "Why would Del Ponte need me if the Serbs and the French were lined up?" he told me. Del Ponte would not comment.

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Marc Perelman
Marc Perelman is a Paris-based journalist for the TV station France 24 and was previously the diplomatic correspondent...

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Western officials have often portrayed the prosecutor as a stubborn, blunder-prone bully whose frequent outbursts undermined their quiet efforts to resolve war crimes issues. Nice describes her as "a combination of immature politician and ordinary cop." Prosper told me that Del Ponte's tips often proved erroneous, partly because her office was easy prey for tipsters working with a hidden agenda who would feed the office misinformation, an assertion supported by Arnaud Danjean, the former French intelligence analyst who was in charge of tracking Yugoslav war criminals. Danjean also disagrees with Hartmann's sweeping conclusion that the failures to prevent Srebrenica and to arrest Karadzic and Mladic are linked. "She conflates those two separate shames, and it just doesn't hold water," he told me.

But while Danjean admits there was never a strong political will to arrest Karadzic and Mladic, Prosper maintains that Washington undertook an all-out effort to do so during his tenure from 2001 to 2005. He stressed that "hard-core diplomacy" had prompted the region's governments, primarily Belgrade, to hand over some eighty indictees to the ICTY in recent years. This "hard-core diplomacy" involved conditioning foreign aid and future admission to NATO and the European Union on Mladic's handover. But those sticks were sweetened by an enticing carrot: the so-called "completion strategy" of the ICTY. In 2000 the Security Council decided that the tribunal would finish its initial trials at the end of 2008 and its appeals in 2010, the year it would shut its doors. As a practical matter, this has meant reducing the list of indictees and delegating the judgment of low-level officials to the relevant national jurisdictions. When Del Ponte reneged, Hartmann claims, US officials threatened to cut the tribunal's funding, denounced its corruption and, behind the scenes, worked to reduce the chief prosecutor's prerogatives.

In her last appearance as chief prosecutor before the Security Council on December 10, Del Ponte said it was "a stain on the international tribunal's work that two individuals indicted for genocide and responsible for the worst crimes committed in Europe since the Second World War are still fugitives." She also urged the council not to "close the door" on the court before Mladic and Karadzic are brought to justice.

When I asked Hartmann what shocked her most during her time in The Hague, she pointed to a series of obscure rulings by the ICTY judges that she discusses in her book. Those decisions pertain to the handling of a set of crucial documents: the wartime minutes of the Yugoslav Supreme Defense Council, which comprised the head of the Yugoslav federation, the presidents of Serbia and of Montenegro, as well as the army chief, and were in effect a rubber stamp for Milosevic's edicts. After the fall of Milosevic, the prosecutor's office fought for almost two years to persuade Serbia to transmit the minutes to the tribunal. In May 2003 Belgrade eventually allowed a tribunal expert to examine them. The expert reported that the documents provided strong evidence of Belgrade's control over Serbian political and military forces in Croatia and Bosnia, including the heretofore unknown existence of two entities within the joint chiefs of staff in Belgrade in charge of coordinating funding and personnel for the Serbian armies in those two countries. In July 2003 the prosecution asked the ICTY judges to order Belgrade to hand over the full transcripts. The Serbs refused and, in October, were able to persuade the judges to limit the use of the minutes to the Milosevic trial only.

More important, the judges agreed to keep the most incriminating portions from the public and from other judicial institutions--and then rejected repeated attempts by the prosecutor's office to reverse the decision. Belgrade had officially invoked the "vital national interest" to justify its demand. Under that guise, Hartmann claims, the Serbs told the judges that they wanted to avoid paying significant damages if a complaint filed by Bosnia in 1993 to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a UN court in charge of adjudicating disputes between countries, accusing Serbia of aggression and genocide was successful. If Serbia was found guilty, it would have to pay compensation to Bosnia estimated at upwards of $20 billion; the Serbs argued successfully to the judges that this would impose a major burden on their fragile economy. (Muhamed Sacirbey, the former Bosnian foreign minister, who was the chief proponent of the ICJ case, told me Western powers had been pressuring Bosnia to drop the case for years.) As a result, the full set of documents was never transmitted to the ICJ judges, who in turn did not ask Belgrade to obtain them. This past February, the ICJ ruled that Srebrenica was a genocide but that Serbia was not directly responsible for it and did not have to pay damages to Bosnia.

Nice blames Del Ponte and her decision in May 2003 to write a letter to the Serbian foreign minister offering to keep portions of the documents from the public; he favored obtaining a court order demanding their full original content. "This is a prime example of Del Ponte's corrupting influence on the process," he told me, surmising that she had obtained, in exchange, a promise of further cooperation. Del Ponte's office forcefully denied the allegations, and Hartmann stresses that the letter to the Serbs offered nondisclosure only if the demands were reasonable and within the rules of the tribunal. When they proved not to be, the prosecutor's office fought to disclose the full records. In any case, contrary to Nice's claims, the decision to offer confidentiality can be made only by the judges. "As a result, people blame Del Ponte instead of the judges," Hartmann told me. "I'm not saying the judges were taking orders from their governments, but it begs asking why magistrates acted in a way that is clearly against the law and amounted to withholding documents from another jurisdiction in order to prevent a country from paying damages," she said. "The judges' attitude is a real scandal no one is willing to denounce."

No one, it seems, except Hartmann. A month after the publication of Paix et châtiment, she received a letter from the tribunal reminding her of her administrative and legal obligations to respect its confidentiality rules. But she is undaunted. Not so much because she remains at heart a reporter eager to tell a juicy story but because she wants to send a warning that behind the shiny words "international justice" lies a more somber reality no one should ignore.

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