Analysis 24 Jan 08

Bosnians Consider Del Ponte Legacy

Few observers in Bosnia question Carla Del Ponte’s commitment to pursuing war criminals, but many criticise her record as Chief Prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal.

By Nidzara Ahmetasevic, Sarajevo

When Carla Del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, stepped down in December, commentators in Bosnia and Herzegovina, BiH, acknowledged her achievements but expressed disappointment with the results of her eight years in office.

A total of 91 indictments were filed during Del Ponte’s term, and a number of high-ranking generals and top politicians were convicted of a range of crimes.

But the best-known defendant, former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, died before a verdict could be handed down. Meanwhile, the two most notorious fugitives, Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs’ wartime military commander, and Radovan Karadzic, their political leader, remain at large.

Many Bosnian commentators have highlighted what they call “missed opportunities” during Del Ponte’s term.

Danka Savic from the weekly news magazine Slobodna Bosna, who used to cover the Hague Tribunal’s proceedings, told Balkan Insight that she believes Del Ponte “did a good job. But the sense of justice really being served – which should have come with good work – is still missing.”

Statements by representatives of victims’ associations have been similarly ambivalent, and there has been a marked difference in the way Del Ponte’s work has been judged in each of BiH’s two largely autonomous entities.

In the Bosnian Serb Republic, RS, the Director of the Office for Missing Persons and Prisoners of War, Milan Bogdanic, says that none of Bosnia’s three constituent peoples, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, has been entirely satisfied with Del Ponte’s activities.

“Bosniaks complain because the two most wanted indictees [Karadzic and Mladic] are not in custody. Serbs and Croats, on the other hand, feel discriminated against because a much larger number of individuals of their nationalities have been charged for crimes committed during the war”.

The RS Prime Minister, Milorad Dodik, believes Del Ponte did not pay enough attention to war crimes committed against Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia.

“My main reason for dissatisfaction with the Chief Prosecutor is her selective point of view when it comes to justice – this was more than evident and visible many times in public,” Dodik told Balkan Insight. “Her mandate could have been much more effective if she had acted less as a politician and more in accordance with her mandate as Prosecutor.”

That view is not shared by most non-Serbs, in and outside the former Yugoslavia, who point out that the majority of war crimes, with the largest number of victims, were committed by Serb forces.

The ICTY was established by the UN in 1993, and Del Ponte became its third Chief Prosecutor in 1999, after South African Richard Goldstone and Canadian Louise Arbour.

Del Ponte inherited the indictments against Milosevic and other senior Serbian officials which had been brought by Arbour on account of alleged crimes committed in Kosovo. Del Ponte later added further indictments to Milosevic’s charge-sheet in relation to Croatia and Bosnia.

Among her achievements, Del Ponte proved beyond reasonable doubt that genocide was committed at Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia, and that rape was used as an instrument of terror in Bosnia, and as such constituted a crime against humanity. She also succeeded in securing guilty verdicts against several defendants accused of committing crimes against civilians during the epic siege of Sarajevo.

Del Ponte visited the former Yugoslav republics regularly, and repeatedly reminded local politicians and international officials of the need for full cooperation with her office until all those indicted by the Tribunal were taken into custody.

She was active at the diplomatic level, lobbying governments and organisations to exert pressure on the Yugoslav successor states to cooperate fully with the ICTY as a precondition for closer integration with the European Union.

Despite this effort, Del Ponte left office without having brought all those charged to court. This was a bitter disappointment to her – and to the victims of war crimes.

Del Ponte often said that Milosevic’s death, before the conclusion of his trial, represented the greatest disappointment of her career. Her next biggest regret was the failure to apprehend Karadzic and Mladic, as well as Slobodan Zupljanin, a former Bosnian Serb police chief, and Goran Hadzic, a one-time leader of separatist Serbs in Croatia.

Victims’ groups representing different national groups in BiH have complained that Del Ponte was either too aggressive in pursuing cases against members of this or that community – or not aggressive enough. She was also criticised at times for failing to show sufficient solidarity with the victims.

However, Bakira Hasecic of the Association of Women Victims of War, told Balkan Insight that Del Ponte had simply failed to achieve enough.

Hasecic, who was raped and expelled from the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad during the war, has previously criticised the ICTY Prosecutor’s Office over its handling of the indictment against Milan and Sredoje Lukic, the first the commander, and the second a member, of the White Eagles (“Beli orlovi”) paramilitary unit, which fought in Visegrad alongside the Bosnian Serb army during the war.

The Lukic cousins have been indicted on charges of mass murder and ethnic cleansing, among other things, but not on charges of rape. Hasecic, who claims she was one of Milan Lukic’s victims, has been campaigning for years in vain to have the indictment against the cousins extended to include rape.

“We know she [Del Ponte] could not have done everything that we expected,” Hasecic says. “But it is a big disappointment that Karadzic and Mladic are not in The Hague. We know she is not the one to blame for that, but the UN Security Council.”

However, Hasecic is more critical about Tribunal over its treatment of victims who testify before it. “After you leave the Tribunal, nobody cares about you anymore,” she says.

Seida Karabasic of the Source (“Izvor”) war crimes victims’ association in Prijedor, in north-western Bosnia, is more circumspect in her assessment of Del Ponte’s record. Two of the most notorious camps set up by the Bosnian Serb authorities, Omarska and Keraterm, were located near Priejdor. Thousands of civilians were held at these camps in 1992, but none of the trials established that genocide had been committed in that part of Bosnia.

“I believe Carla Del Ponte, during her mandate, did a lot, but that doesn’t mean we can be satisfied,” Karabasic says. “After she became Chief Prosecutor, the ICTY became more important and more visible all over the world, and [more attention was paid] to war crimes committed in Bosnia.”

However, Karabasic expresses disapproval of Del Ponte’s focus on some areas at the expense of others, noting that “all her attention was directed towards victims from Srebrenica, and maybe because of that genocide was proved for that part of Bosnia, unlike Prijedor.”

Karabasic said that she had expected more from the Chief Prosecutor, and that now she was placing her hopes in the domestic prosecution authorities.

Since 2004 the BiH State Court and the BiH State Prosecutor’s Office have been dealing with war crimes. Showing confidence in the domestic judiciary, the ICTY Prosecutor’s Office has asked for six cases to be transferred to Sarajevo, and the Tribunal’s judges have agreed to this request. One of the cases involves four defendants from the Prijedor area. Defence arguments are currently being heard in this case.

Bogdanic from the RS missing persons’ office believes that the work done by Del Ponte’s office will have an important bearing on future cases that come before courts in BiH, and on the whole process of confronting Bosnia’s difficult recent past.

However, he argues that Del Ponte would have achieved more, if her office had paid greater attention to exhumations and the fate of missing individuals.

“Our office has always had a very pro-active attitude toward the Prosecutor’s Office at The Hague, giving them all available information related to certain cases and material evidence we had,” Bogdanic says.

Danka Savic emphasizes that Del Ponte’s departure after eight years marks the end of an era, since it comes just two years before the Tribunal itself is scheduled to close. She believes the former Chief Prosecutor was completely committed to bringing those responsible for war crimes to justice, but with the death of Milosevic and the continued failure to arrest Karadzic and Mladic that goal has not been achieved.

“What is really sad, though”, according to Savic, “is that there is no visible change in perception, especially in Serbia, towards those accused of war crimes in former Yugoslavia, something we had all hoped for.”

Nidzara Ahmetasevic is a regular Balkan Insight contributor. Balkan Insight is BIRN`s online publication.

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