Del Ponte dismisses racism claims

Carla del Ponte defended sacking of prosecutors Keystone Archive

The United Nations chief prosecutor, Switzerland's Carla del Ponte, has ridiculed accusations that she failed to re-appoint seven prosecutors at the International Tribunal for Rwanda for racist motives.

This content was published on May 17, 2001 - 16:14

Speaking at a press conference in Geneva on Thursday, del Ponte also said she hopes to see the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, transferred to The Hague war crimes tribunal by the end of June.

The former Swiss Prosecutor General said the contracts of the seven prosecutors - six Africans and one Indian - had not been renewed because the incumbents were not up to the job.

The seven had complained to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, that they had been the victims of racism.

"The accusations of racism are ridiculous," del Ponte said. "Some of the prosecutors were too weak. They had to be changed. They were perhaps good jurists, but they were not experienced chief prosecutors.

"The defence is very strong. We cannot risk losing cases when the defendant is manifestly guilty. If a guilty person is acquitted, ultimately it is my responsibility," she added.

She said she did not want the Arusha tribunal to become a lesser court, pointing out that "international justice must be consistent".

On the question of Milosevic, del Ponte said she was confident that he would be transferred to The Hague as soon as a new law on cooperation with the International Tribunal was passed by the Yugoslav parliament. She said she understood that the law would be voted on in late June.

Milosevic, who is wanted by the International Tribunal for war crimes committed in Kosovo, is under arrest in Belgrade on charges of abuse of power and corruption. Del Ponte urged the Yugoslav authorities not to delay his transfer once the law is passed.

"I have nothing against him being tried in Belgrade for other crimes. But such a trial would take two or three years to organise. We are ready to try him tomorrow," said del Ponte, who has always insisted that The Hague court should take precedence over national courts.

She added that, as a UN member, Yugoslavia knows it has an international obligation to send Milosevic to The Hague. She did acknowledge, though, that there had been "big changes" in Belgrade.

She said if the Yugoslavs dragged their feet, there was little she could do to force them to comply, other than refuse to cooperate in the investigations into Milosevic's financial dealings. She said it would be up to the international community to bring pressure to bear.

Del Ponte said the tribunal would soon make public the exact charges against Milosevic relating to crimes committed during the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

The UN Prosecutor also called on Nato and the Stabilisation force in Bosnia (SFor) to play a greater role in tracking down indicted war crimes suspects who were still at large. These include the former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his military chief, Ratko Mladic.

"I'm very disappointed. Why have Mladic and Karadzic not been arrested? I'm asking SFor to be more proactive," she said.

by Roy Probert

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