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Last Updated: Friday, 14 December 2007, 14:21 GMT
Del Ponte exits in pride and frustration
By Paulin Kola
BBC News

Chief UN prosecutor Carla Del Ponte speaks during a Balkans Crossroads meeting organized by the Friends of Europe 04 December 2007, in Brussels
Four suspects got away
Carla del Ponte walks out of the office she has occupied for the last eight years in The Hague satisfied - if a little frustrated.

Statistics speak for her achievements at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY): 91 war crimes suspects taken into custody, 63 served with indictments - only four of them still at large - and 44 trials.

In her justice-for-the-victim quest, she reserved a "guilty-until-proven-innocent" treatment for the alleged perpetrators.

Carla Del Ponte says she has always championed the cause of victims. Her tenure "started, continued and ended with them", as she put it last week.

By her own count, more than 3,500 horrendous Balkan stories have been re-told inside the three courtrooms.

The first such tribunal since Nuremberg has been delivering verdicts on very senior officials - and on the history of the Balkans in the last decade of the last century - the bloodiest since World War II.

The long catalogue of cases heard includes:

  • Genocide, recognised as having been perpetrated in Srebrenica in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1995
  • The siege of Sarajevo, now classified as a war crime
  • Rape used as an instrument of war

And questions over the legality of Nato's military intervention in Kosovo in 1999 without a United Nations authorisation are yet to come.

Carla Del Ponte's international teams sometimes seem to struggle in a web of Balkan conspiracy unfolding around place names likely to challenge the best-travelled linguist and historian

This is an impressive list - but the statistics may not necessarily cement Ms Del Ponte's, or the tribunal's legacy.

After all, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime commander, General Ratko Mladic, are still at large.

And their boss, the former president of Serbia and then Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, cheated justice by dying in his cell at the tribunal's detention centre last year.

Compromise and politics

Ms Del Ponte took particular pride in bringing the first head of state before a trial chamber, but her critics say this trial became such a huge marathon that it undermined the tribunal's work.

Milosevic was allowed to turn the trial into a political show. And arguably, a verdict would have been delivered if the indictment not been so all-encompassing, combining as it did charges relating to Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. Splitting the case into parts may have been a more effective way of handling it.

She was "furious" at Milosevic's death, she said recently. "For me," she said, "that meant four years of arduous work without legal satisfaction."

Radovan Karadzic and Gen Mladic. File photo
Radovan Karadzic
Ratko Mladic
Stojan Zupljanin
Goran Hadzic

Milosevic - among others - said he did not recognise the tribunal and saw Carla Del Ponte as a pawn of the West.

She did not agree, and in fact, reserved some withering criticism for the Western countries' failure, for political reasons, to have Karadzic and Mladic arrested in the run-up and the immediate aftermath of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords

Furthermore, she says, the West's infatuation with getting Serbia to accept an independent Kosovo is hindering the search for Ratko Mladic.

But she had to play her own political game, contributing to the European Union policy of linking Serbia's - and Croatia's - path to membership to their co-operation with the tribunal.

And critics could not fail to notice how Karadzic dropped out of her vocabulary. Whether it was a political compromise or simple resignation - Del Ponte and many others believe Mladic is within grasp of the Serbian authorities, whereas Karadzic's trail has gone cold - remains unclear.

One of her predecessors, Richard Goldstone, told the BBC News website that Carla Del Ponte had displayed "tremendous determination" in her job.

"In particular, she fought extremely hard to obtain the detention of Karadzic and Mladic," Judge Goldstone said.

"That she has not suceeded is a great disappointment and I sincerely hope that her efforts will prove not have been in vain."

All are equal

Ms Del Ponte's efforts to show impartiality by making sure all Balkans nations were represented in the dock was another move that may have been motivated partly by political considerations.

But non-Serbs convicted by the tribunal have been rare exceptions.

And you get cases like that of former Kosovo Albanian guerrilla-turned-prime-minister Ramush Haradinaj, whose defence is so confident that prosecutors have not made their case, that it is not even bothering to call witnesses.

Carla Del Ponte's international teams sometimes seem to struggle in a web of Balkan conspiracy, unfolding around place names likely to challenge the best-travelled linguist and historian.

The outgoing chief prosecutor says The Hague "is not only about conviction of defendants".

But some critics wonder whether she has focused too much on delivering suspects for trial, rather than getting guilty verdicts.

In the Balkans, victims want those verdicts in order to get some semblance of closure.

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