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Justice, reconciliation and politics

Carla Del Ponte, is due in Belgrade again, keeping the pressure on for the delivery of fugitives to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Ahead of her visit, the Hague Tribunal's chief prosecutor gave this interview to B92's Milos Milic.

B92: Madam Prosecutor, let’s start with something that you are dealing with every day. It’s probably one of your main preoccupations. What do you think of the Tribunal’s exit strategy? Is this some kind of pressure on your office? I mean you should speed up the trials and think also about the consequences. Is this a pressure on your office?

DEL PONTE: Yes it is, but is now since a couple of years that we are under pressure because we received the indication that we must close the investigation by 2004. We have done that, so we are not issuing indictments any more and, of course, now after the resolution from the Security Council that the first instance trials should be finished in 2008 and appeals by 2010, we are particularly under pressure because we are obliged to schedule all our trials and to be able to close in 2010 the Tribunal.

The pressure is particularly how to speed up the trials, always respecting that it is a fair trial for the defence and for the accused and, of course, for the prosecution and of course there are the fugitives because I have now, since today, I have seven fugitives still at large and, as you know, important fugitives, important under the criminal responsibility for what they are accused and so, yes, the completion strategy is a pressure on the office of the prosecutor to be able to close this tribunal by 2010.

B92: We are going to discuss the fact that there are now seven fugitives and that since last night one more has been arrested, or surrendered. But you said for yourself that one of your aims now is to speed up the trials. Does that have any consequences on the fairness of the trials and the goals that the tribunal has?

DEL PONTE: No. Absolutely not. Fairness is one of the principal grounds in the conduct of these trials and that is, of course, preserved very strongly I would say.

B92: Soon the so-called megatrials will begin. Soon, we don’t know how soon. I am going to ask you that also. One is for the Srebrenica case and one is for the indictees who are indicted for Kosovo crimes. Now, is the prosecution ready for those trials? When I talk about this with defence attorneys they usually claim that you are not ready and that the Tribunal itself is not prepared for such megatrials.

DEL PONTE: First of all, one of the problems is to prepare the courtroom…

B92: Not just the courtroom, I mean…

DEL PONTE: Second… No, for the trial… We will be ready. You know, the request for joinder is to put together the accused who are indicted for the same crime base. Of course, in a different position, but the crime base is the same, so Srebrenica, the crime base is the same, so we have different accused at different levels of criminal responsibility, but I think it is useful not to repeat the same trial many times, but just one, so Srebrenica will be nine accused. Unfortunately I have one who is still at large and that is the accused, Tolimir, so I expect the authorities in Belgrade to provide the transfer of the accused Tolimir as soon as possible, so that when the trial will start, he will also be present. So nine accused in one trial.

B92: Can you give us any approximate date for the beginning of the trial. You can not in the Srebrenica case since Tolimir is still at large, but what about the Kosovo case?

DEL PONTE: You know, the Kosovo case, that is Milutinovic and the other accused. So we have now trials that are ongoing, so the president will assign to start the other trial, keeping in mind when it will be possible to have judges, trial chambers available to conduct this trial. But in our office we are preparing the trial, all trials, with different staff, so it should be possible to start the Kosovo trial, as you called it, next year. In any case next year because this year we have the possibility to start one or two trials, but not the so-called megatrials.

B92: Sreten Lukic and probably Milan Lukic will probably soon be transferred, we don’t know how soon, will be transferred here but, nevertheless, the arrests of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are yet to happen. You talk a lot about those indictees. You also often mention that you had or have information about their whereabouts. Now the governments are denying your information. So within the past four or five years, was the information on those two or three indictees correct? How do you get such information? Give us as many details as you are able because I think our viewers are intereste in this topic.

DEL PONTE: First I want to tell you that if we are speaking, for example, about the accused Mladic, I have said since 2001 that Mladic is in Serbia and Mladic is protected by the army. And, finally, now in Belgrade the authorities are confirming what I am saying Nobody’s denying any more that Mladic is in Serbia and protected by the army. So I must tell you that my information that we received was properly found and credible.

About Gotovina, I don’t have information about the location but what I have received since now is that he is in Croatia or Bosnia-Hercegovina. About Karadzic, I think nobody’s denying that Karadzic is in the region, that means that he’s in Republika Srpska, moving Republika-Srpska-Montenegro-Serbia. So, it is not a secret. I think it is absolutely accepted, publicly accepted where they are, these accused. So I’m not revealing …

B92: Sources?


B92: On the other hand, what we are expecting is your visit to Belgrade, or to the region, at the end of this month. This is defeinitly going to be a topic between you and the authorities in the region. What I want to ask you is are you going to link this topic with the EU talks that Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro are expecting?

DEL PONTE: You know, my topic is to obtain the arrest and transfer of the fugitives still at large. And when I’m going – I’m going regularly to the region – and when I’m going it’s because I must discuss the arrest of the fugitives. And if I’m going to Belgrade, of course I must discuss particulalry about the arrest of Mladic, but not only Mladic: Mladic, Tolimir, Hadzic, Zupljanin. Because to now we have received in cooperation with Belgrade fugitives who were transferred as so-called voluntary surrenders of fugitives. But these were not the highly responsible of what we sought. And so the highly responsible, military or politically are still at large. So, I’m speaking of course about Karadzic and Mladic for example.

And I will go to Belgrade to discuss what they are doing and is Mladic and Tolimir and the others – are they coming to The Hague, because my last visit was in June, and I received assurances from the authorities that Mladic, particularly Mladic, will be delivered to The Hague before October 5. So I am expecting, and I hope that they will be able to do it. Because I believe the authorities when they are saying that.

B92: I’m trying to connect this with the forthcoming talks with the EU that Zagreb and Belgrade are separately expecting. So your opinion counts on that matter, so what will …

DEL PONTE: You know, I need support from the international community, from the European Union. It is extremely important as you know. And so, I am also grateful that the European Union is asking me my assessment about cooperation, and the main point of cooperation is of course the arrest of fugitives now. So I expect that the European Union is continuing supporting us and, of course, negotiations start, it’s an important leverage to obtain the arrest of the further fugitives.

B92: So you are connecting the fugitives and the forthcoming talks?

DEL PONTE: You know, I’m not interfering in politics. The negotiations are a political decision and my concern is to have my fugitives in The Hague and my concern is that the European Union is still helping us to obtain that.

B92: I read in The Guardian that Germany says that the expansion of Europe can not be your hostage. Have you ever been told that openly or is this just journalists’ chit-chat?

DEL PONTE: I don’t know I never read… I’m just hearing from you that kind of consideration. What it is is that I am called by the European Union, by the Council to come to Brussels or to Luxembourg and to give an assessment and it is my duty and it is my task to do it. After the political discussion and the political decision outside my power... As I said I’m grateful that the European Union is asking me about the assessment, about cooperation.

B92: You will again be seeing Mr Kostunica. In 2001 when you first met Vojislav Kostunica he told you that the Tribunal is an anti-Serbian institution and that it is controlled by the USA. Now, in the meantime, it seesm that something has changed. You have talked with this man three, four, five times. What do you think has changed and, in your opinion, what has happened within those four years?

DEL PONTE: First of all I must tell you that I have met him twice.

B92: Ah yes, he refused to see you.

DEL PONTE: Twice or three times. But of course, the first time, it was not really a good approach, but in the meantime it is a great change and Prime Minister Kostunica, particularly in the last meeting, he gave me assurances about the arrest of fugitives and full cooperation with us, so if it’s not achieved now I hope they’re working on that and it will be possible to do that.

B92: I think it is interesting to tell us: are those talks unpleasant for you?

DEL PONTE: No. Why? No, absolutely not.

B92: So you can not say it’s a dialogue, if he’s…

DEL PONTE: It is now a dialogue. It is a dialogue since the beginning of this year. It was a great change in the attitude of the government of Serbia and I must say I have no particular problem. We are in touch. We are in touch regularly and we expect to have concrete results, very soon, I hope

B92: The European Union and NATO, I think, mentioned Dayton, the anniversaryof the Dayton Agreement as a new date. You mentioned the fifth of October, since this is the approximate date of the EU talks. What about that?

DEL PONTE: I mentioned the fifth of October because it was mentioned by the authorities in Belgrade, by the president of the federation, by the prime minister, all authorities, the minister for foreign affairs, the authorities that I met, gave me, and particularly Prime Minister Kostunica gave me the deadline.

B92: He mentioned that date?

DEL PONTE: He mentioned, yes, he mentioned October, October the fifth as an important date, and I received, I received explicitly assurances that before that date Mladic could be transferred to The Hague.

So it’s true that Secretary Solana and Secretary… the general secretary of NATO, they fixed another term, a deadline, another date…

B92: Which is the tenth deadline, I think, within the last…

DEL PONTE: Yes, but you know, you can always discover a new deadline, but time is running, and in my calculation if we want to respect the completion strategy we must have all fugitives in The Hague before the end of the year. Yes. Otherwise the completion strategy is falling down. It’s not possible to respect the resolution of the Security Council.

B92: Let’s turn to the Milosevic trial. Are you satisfied with it? The critics say that this trial has given enough ammunition, not only for the nationalists in Serbia to say that this is an anti-Serbia institution, but also there are critics who say that this also gave enough ammunition for generals in the Pentagon, for Western diplomats who cannot stand the very idea of international justice.

DEL PONTE: The Milosevic trial is a long trial because we are discussing and proving ten years of responsibility, ten years of crimes responsibility.

B92: You said once that it is almost a routine now.

DEL PONTE: No, I said it is a routine in the sense that we have rules of procedure to follow and so after the presentation of the prosecution case, we have now the defence case and the accused, Mr Milosevic, is allowed to present his defence witnesses, so, you know, the Milosevic trial, it’s a long trial because, as I said, it’s a long time of criminal responsibility. But we have a lot of other trials which are ongoing or we expect sentences. So, for example, we expect sentencing in the Limai case, and the Limai case is an Albanian accused from Kosovo. So, why focus only on Milosevic, of course Milosevic is a former president. But don’t forget that we are conducting many other trials. We have many other indictments against accused from all sides, from all origins, ethnic origins, so Bosniacs, Serbs, Albanians, Croats. So it is unjustified to focus on Milosevic. From the judicial point of view we are trying, we are doing our task under the mandate we received from the Security Council.

B92: If today you wer in a position to sign the indictment against Milsoevic would you change anything in it?

DEL PONTE: What a question! I work with what I have and I think that the three indictrments were properly proved in court, so we expect now to be able to finish and to obtain the judgement from the Trial Chamber.

B92: Perhaps you could clarify something for us. Last week, I think, Vojislav Seselj was in the stand in the courtroom, there was some misunderstanding when he mentioned his idea of Greater Serbia. Now after that an argument started in the courtroom. So perhaps you could explain that to us. Is Milosevic actually charged with attempting to create a Greater Serbia.

DEL PONTE: You know, I won’t enter now into what is the detail from the ongoing discussion in court because this discussions must be held in court and in the presence of the judges and I cannot discuss that here publicly. But I think when you go through exactly what was said in court you will receive a clear answer,

B92: Well, Mr Nice certainly tried to give one in the courtroom.

We are still waiting for a direct link between that video of the brutal execution near Trnovo in Bosnia that was commted by the Scorpions with the trial and with the accused. Your office has asked for additional witnesses and to give additional evidence on this. So how will you convince the judges that there is a direct link between the Scorpions and the…

DEL PONTE: You know, in each trial, the prosecutor has, after the presentation of the defence case, the prosectuor has the possibility to present other evidence in the so-called rebuttal phase. So that could be done after the presentation of Milosevic’s defence in rebuttal, so we expect to be able. And you know, we will also have to evaluate at the end of the presentation of the defence case what is really needed to represent in rebuttal because we don’t want to make a repetition, or if we assume that our evidence is strong enough we will not rebut what is not really needed because I think that next year this trial should come to an end.

B92: Which part? Milosevic giving his evidence or the whole first part of the trial?

DEL PONTE: Next year we will be able, I hope, that the Trial Chamber close the trial with a judgement.

B92: I mentioned the video of the execution of the Srebrenica men. That video certainly changed something in Serbia. A lot of people, in the month that followed, finally realised what actually happened in Srebrenica. I think it really helped for the majority of people. But last week when you were addressing a press conference in Switzerland you mentioned that the thing is going backwards.

DEL PONTE: Not really. I said that despite that, because, showing the video, as you said, it was very, very positive. But despite what was positive, immediately you have this negative reaction from another part that is coming out. And that is surprising me and I think it’s not so good for the country, for the state, because that is a little bit, a sort of disinformation from the past, you know, coming out again. Because saying that in Srebrenica three thousand Serbs were killed is absolutely not accurate, not true. Because, as I said, it’s true that Serbs were killed in Srebrenica, but it was in the conflict outside Srebrenica, and it was two thousand, but two thousand soldiers because it is a conflict, it is a war. So, you know, I’m always unpleased about disinformation because we are here trying, trying to come to the truth of what happened, the facts that happened, what happened during the conflict, but the truth. We must avoid, absolutely, this disinformation.

B92: The non-governmental organisations in Serbia that were connected with bringing this video to light have been fiercely attacked by nationalists and right wing political parties in Serbia, even physically. So I would be interested in knowing what your relationship is with these non-governmental circles. This could clear up the whole thing because, you know, they have been almost crucified in Serbia as enemies of the state.

DEL PONTE: You must not forget that I am the prosecutor of this tribunal. And my contact with organisations, with NGOs, with different institutions is only done because of cooperation with us, because we must collect evidence, because we must have access to witnesses and documents. That’s it. I don’t see, and I don’t want to have a particular task different from what I am assigned by the Security Council.

B92: I’m aware of that, but there are people who support your work and the work of the Tribunal, and their position in Serbia is not so good. They are, as I told you, probably in physical danger because of the natioanlists and their attitudes towards this.

DEL PONTE: They are… Yes, many people are in danger because of this dangerous attitude. But I think that it is important to stay in the right direction,despite the threats, despite the situation.

B92: You told the media that Belgrade, and the local govenrment, not just Belgrade, won’t be allowed to take over any of the proceedings unless they cooperate with the Tribunal. Now what has happened is that Belgrade basically won’t be given any of the big trials from your office or from this tribunal. People from the National Council and from the Special Prosecution in Belgrade really expected to get the Vukovar Three case. What made you change your mind? When we were hearing informally that this would be held in Belgrade.

DEL PONTE: You put the question and you give the answer. But I want to tell you that the Vukovar Three case, my decision was to transfer the case. So it was the Trial Chamber which decided differently. It’s not my decision

B92: You withdrew your first intention to move it.

DEL PONTE: Yes, from Vukovar. But who knows. I have cases which are without indictment because we suspended investigations, and these cases we are able to transfer to Belgrade. We transfer cases. We cooperate fully with the chief prosecutor in Belgrade. You are aware only of cases with an indictment, and until now it was no decision with an indictment. But who knows, we have other requests pending and it is possible and I wish that Belgrade would also receive because our evaluation in what we are doing now with prosecutors in Belgrade is absolutely positive.

B92: I’m asking this because this decision could probably be a problem in Belgrade when people should confront all the crimes committed in their name. I think this trial was a nice opportunity for that.

DEL PONTE: Yes. But for other reasons it was not possible. But I can say that Belgrade will have the opportunity, other opportunities.

B92: One of the proclaimed goals of this tribunal is, of course, justice. But when you have Milosevic extradited here only for a donor conference, and I think that Blaskic also was extradited for the sake of American loans. Is there enough space to talk about justice. Do you think that is a problem in your work?

DEL PONTE: I don’t understand your question. My problem is to obtain justice. I have a clear mandate from the Security Council. I think I have implemented it, fulfilled it, because the main responsibility in military and political sector from the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes and genocide are here in The Hague, expecting to go on trial or serving sentences. I think we have done what we are requested to do. Of course an issue which is still open is Karadzic and Mladic, because without Karadzic and Mladic of course it would be a problem. But I’m still an optimist that we will achieve all of that.

B92: Your office, I think, promoted the idea of joint criminal enterprise. Over the past four or five years has this passed the test, in your opinion?

DEL PONTE: First of all it’s not my office that invented the joint criminal enterprise. The joint criminal enterprise is a principle or is a definition that is coming out of the national systems and it’s coming out from the criminal activity of perpetrators and of course it’s coming out particularly of organised crime. Yes, joint criminal enterprise was elaborated particulalry for the purpose of the crimes we are handling, so for war crimes and crimes against humanity and we have also now jurisprudence on that because the precedent sentences have explained exactly now the three levels of joint criminal enterprise. We will see, and we need some other judgements and sentences to see if the elaboration we obtain is strong enough to make real jurisprudence for the international tribunals, but I think we are on the good way.

B92: In the past twenty years the prosecution office has some ninety indictments. Ninety indictments for four or five years of war in Yugoslavia and dozens of verdicts. Is this enough to really establish justice and reconciliation?

DEL PONTE: There are more than ninety indictments. You have 162. If you are asking with the indictment we issue, it is enough to obtain real justice or, even more, to obtain reconciliation, I will tell you no. Because other elements must be efficient together to obtain real reconciliation or even justice because ICTY is concerned with high level responsible, military and politically. But you have mid-level and low level perpetrators who must also come to trial in the national systems. So it is now extremely important that in Belgrade, in Sarajevo, in Zagreb the prosecutors are able to finish it, to conduct investigations and trials. And of course, important also for reconciliation is not only to obtain justice – that is extremely important, but not only – and one of the elements is also victim support. Victim support is also extremely important. So it is a combined work that the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the national system and the political system are working together to achieve finally real reconciliation in the region.

B92: Two young Bosniacs, one of whom used to work for the Tribunal, made a film called Blind Justice. The message of that film is that after twelve years of the Tribuanl operating there is really no justice for the victims. Would you agree with that?

DEL PONTE: I didn’t see the film so it’s difficult for me to make an evaluation but, by your last sentence, I think that in my contact with the victims I must say that justice is done. It’s done partially, of course, because we are not a jurisdiction which covers the commission of crimes there and maybe that will make this feeling that justice is not done, but important is to inform exactly about what we are doing here, what must be done by the local national system and, of course, sometimes it’s not possible to do it overnight, it takes some more days.

B92: B92 is broadcasting not only the Milosevic trial but also several other trials that are going on here. You mentioned some of them. We have been doing this for more than three and a half years. We have also been attacked by the nationalists in Serbia, but also by pro-Western circles which claim that we are not helping reconciliation by this coverage. I’m wondering what your opinion is on that kind of confrontation with the past.

DEL PONTE: It’s not possible for me to give you my opinion because I’m not able to follow your broadcasting because I don’t know your language, unfortunately because if I had time I would learn your language, but unfortunately I have no time to learn the language so I do not follow your broadcasts.

B92: We are basically broadcasting the trials. This is what we do.

DEL PONTE: But that of course is positive, because it’s… But you know it’s difficult to broadcast a trial if you don’t broadcast it entire. Because if you choose, you can make a choice so you can divert… But in my view it’s positive. It’s extremely positive and you must continue. You must continue to do that, because in the courtroom you can listen to what happened, what was done, what is said.

B92: Do you feel like someone who is writing the history of the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia?

DEL PONTE: No. Absolutely not. I am a prosecutor. I’m just trying to do what I was assigned to do by the Security Council. No. Absolutely not. I don’t want to even imagine such a burden because… No. I’m just a little piece of an instrument that is trying to create peace and reconciliation and we will see.

B92: Thank you Madam Prosecutor.

DEL PONTE: Thank you. Thank you very much.


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