News 17 Apr 12

Florence Hartmann: Politics Can Harm Justice

Many governments in the region refused to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal in order to hide what they knew at the time war crimes were committed, says a former ICTY spokesperson. 

Elvira Jukic

Governments refused to help the ICTY in order to protect themselves, especially in the cases where there was evidence that they could have acted to prevent war crimes, said Florence Hartmann, a former spokesperson for the ICTY prosecutor.

Speaking at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology on April 12, Hartmann said that the ICTY had had to operate with one hand tied behind its back, owing to its heavy reliance on the uncooperative governments of the former Yugoslavia. This was especially true after the end of the 1992- 95 war in Bosnia.

“They knew much more then they were prepared to admit, information that could have ended the war because they knew which people were behind it all,” Hartmann said.

If governments had been more supportive of the court, the ICTY would have been more effective, she added. Nevertheless, if it was not for the Tribunal, many war criminals would have escaped prosecution, and the evidence of war crimes would not have been gathered.

Confrontations between the Hague Tribunal and some former Yugoslav governments showed that politics could obstruct the achievement of justice, Hartmann told the students.

Hartmann was critical of the claims that the Tribunal did not promote reconciliation in the Balkans explaining that was not the reason for its existence.

The task of the ICTY was to help create the conditions for reconciliation, and not to carry out the work of reconciliation itself, she said.  The Tribunal was just the start of the process.

Hartmann also recalled her experiences as a correspondent for the French newspaper, Le Monde, during the war in Bosnia, saying that the efforts of foreign journalists to discover the truth about what happened there did not significantly influence the international community to shorten the war.

“When I came to the ex-Yugoslavia, I became a witness to a process that could have been prevented. That was when enemies were being identified, and words were being used as weapons,” she said.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established by the UN in 1993 to prosecute war crimes committed in the Balkans in the 1990s.  Its mandate runs until July 1, 2013, when the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals will take over.

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