Del Ponte eyes ICC role

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the opening of the court in The Hague on Tuesday Keystone

The government says it would back a bid by Switzerland's Carla Del Ponte for the job of chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

This content was published on March 11, 2003 - 19:57

The world's first permanent war crimes tribunal was inaugurated in The Hague on Tuesday.

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands swore in the 18 judges who were elected last month by the ICC's 89 member countries.

The court, which officially came into existence on July 1, 2002, has the power to try individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed anywhere in the world.

But it has yet to appoint a chief prosecutor. Several names have been suggested as possible candidates, among them Carla Del Ponte, currently the United Nations chief prosecutor.

The election will take place in New York on April 23.

Del Ponte's interest

Del Ponte expressed her interest in the chief prosecutor's post in an interview with the "Corriere del Ticino" last month.

"Yes, its true; I'm interested, how could I not be," Del Ponte told the newspaper. "Several countries have signalled to me that they see me as chief prosecutor in the future International Criminal Court."

When contacted on Tuesday by swissinfo, Florence Hartmann, her spokeswoman, confirmed that Del Ponte was interested in the post.

But she refused to comment any further on a possible candidature, saying that it was up to individual countries to nominate applicants for the post.

In an interview published on Tuesday in the French newspaper, "Le Monde", Erwin Hofer, head of the political department in the Swiss foreign ministry, announced that Bern would back Del Ponte if there was an international consensus in her favour.

"She has outstanding qualities," said Hofer.

However, Simon Hubacher, head of communications at the Swiss foreign ministry, cautioned that it was up to all 89 member states to agree on the court's future chief prosecutor, adding that it was too early to say if Del Ponte fitted the bill.

Problems

But there could be problems ahead for Del Ponte's candidature since it would clash with her role as the UN's chief prosecutor for two International Criminal Tribunals - one for the former Yugoslavia and the other for Rwanda.

Del Ponte was instrumental in bringing former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to trial. And, according to a report in Tuesday's "Tages-Anzeiger" newspaper, she promised UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that she would complete the case.

The newspaper reported UN sources saying Annan would be unhappy if Del Ponte left her post before the Milosevic trial was concluded.

While refusing to comment directly on Del Ponte's future, Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the UN in New York, told swissinfo that she hoped that there would be no disruption to the ongoing trials at the two International Criminal Tribunals.

"She's [Del Ponte] been doing good work and continues to do good work, and we hope that the prosecutions for Rwanda and Yugoslavia will continue on the timetable she's been working so hard to achieve," said Haq.

The appointment of Del Ponte would ensure a high profile presence for Switzerland at the court after the failure of Barbara Ott to be elected as a judge last month.

swissinfo, Isobel Johnson

In brief

The inauguration of the ICC took place on Tuesday.
Switzerland has said it will support Carla Del Ponte in a bid for the ICC chief prosecutor's job. But it says it needs consensus of the other member countries first.
A number of countries, including the United States, Russia and China, have so far refused to endorse the ICC because of fears that it could be exploited for political purposes.

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Key facts

The ICC has 89 member states.
April 4, 2003, is the last date for submitting candidates.
April 23, 2003, is the election for the chief prosecutor's job.
The court officially came into existence on July 1 2002.

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