Monday, March 13, 2006

Did She Blow It?

In different interviews during the last day or two I have been openly critical of the way the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) has handled primarily the case against Milosevic, and the serious risks that this has undermined the confidence in war crimes justice generally.

First, I believe it was a serious mistake to roll all the charges relating to Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia – in total 66 - into one single trial.

I’m not alone in this view. It is often forgotten that in 2001, the lower chamber of the tribunal ruled that the Kosovo indictment merited a separate trial because the allegations were sufficiently distinct from events earlier in the 1990s in Croatia and Bosnia.

My view at the time was that Bosnia merited a separate trial. If it should be combined with anything, then with Croatia, but definitely not with the in many respects different Kosovo conflict.

I was keen to get a verdict on the Bosnia indictments as soon as possible – and to get a decent and good trial on its different issues.

But the prosecution didn’t like this approach and appealed against it. At the end the decision was overturned. Their approach was to throw everything together in one mammoth trial that would last for many years.

As late as December 2005, the issue of severing the Kosovo indictment from the rest of the charges was dealt with again. The judges deciding against doing so because they felt it would merely be an invitation to Mr Milosevic to seek additional time and further delay proceedings.

In the light of his death, the tribunal has got the worst of all possible outcomes - no verdict on any of the indictments.

The death of Mr Milosevic will place a spotlight on his legal adversary, the chief war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte. Apart from insisting on the lengthy mammoth trial – although she knew as well as anyone about his hearth condition and that serious people at ICTY doubted that he could take it for long – she was also the one that decided to charge him genocide in relation to Bosnia.

Well, the end result of escalating indictments and the throwing all the accusations into one basked and one trials is that it lasted year after year after year until Milosevic’s hearth failed and we ended up without the final verdict.

It is not something Ms. Carla del Ponte has any reason to be proud of.
On the contrary.

History might say that she blew it.