Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Florence Hartmann indicted; Hague Tribunal tries to silence a whistleblower

Florence Hartmann, former spokeswoman for ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte, was last week indicted by the ICTY, on the charge of contempt of court, for allegedly disclosing classified information relating to the proceedings against Slobodan Milosevic. This information was allegedly published in her book, Peace and Punishment (Paix et chatiment) and in an article published on the website of the Bosnian Institute. Hartmann has rejected the charges, arguing that she has not revealed confidential information, but only information she had gathered through her work as a journalist, and that her indictment represents a blow by the Office of the Prosecutor against free speech and transparency. She has pledged to fight the charges.

Hartmann is the first Western citizen without roots in the former Yugoslavia, and the first former ICTY official to be indicted by the Tribunal. As she points out, her book was published a year ago, while the Bosnian Institute article was published in January, making the delay in the issuing of her indictment peculiar. The charges refer to a case that is no longer actual, and cannot be motivated by any desire to ensure the proper functioning of the proceedings. The indictment appears, indeed, to be an attempt to muzzle a whistleblower who has revealed information about the internal politics and incompetence within the Tribunal, and a warning to other former Tribunal officials who might be tempted to reveal more such information.

The ICTY is a highly flawed institution with a very patchy record; badly organised, filled with many incompetent apparatchiks alongside some committed professionals, riven with internal factionalism and corrupted by political pressures both external and self-induced, it has failed to deliver justice to the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. I am myself a former official of the Tribunal, and my biggest criticism of it has been its failure to indict most of the principal Serbian and Montenegrin war-criminals, a failure that, on the basis of my eyewitness experience, I attribute in large part to the poor strategy of del Ponte as Chief Prosecutor. But a perhaps even more shameful failing on the Tribunal’s part was the one about which Florence writes: the decision of the judges in the Milosevic case to allow Serbia, when submitting to the Tribunal the minutes of the ‘Supreme Defence Council’ of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to censor parts of it in the version that was made public. As Florence argues, it was thanks to the Tribunal’s collusion with Serbia in the suppression of this crucial piece of evidence, that Bosnia was not able to draw upon the latter in its case against Serbia for genocide at the International Court of Justice, leading to Serbia’s unjustified acquittal. Far from punishing the perpetrators of genocide in the former Yugoslavia, the Tribunal has helped to shield them (NB to date, only one individual, a lowly deputy corps commander of the Bosnian Serb army, has been successfully prosecuted for a genocide-related offence by the ICTY, while not a single official from Serbia has yet been convicted of any war-crime in Bosnia whatsoever).

The Tribunal may or may not have a legal case against Hartmann. What is certain, however, is that Hartmann was acting in the public interest in revealing the information she did. The people of the former Yugoslavia have a right to know why they have not received much in the way of justice from the ICTY, while the citizens of the world have a right to know why this UN court, funded by their taxes, has produced such poor results. Public interest would best be served if more former Tribunal officials showed as much principle and courage as Florence, and came forward with more insider information so that we can better understand this whole, sorry story. This would help to ensure that other international courts could avoid the ICTY’s mistakes. But we are all aware that there is a risk: I myself, after being interviewed about the ICTY by the Croatian journalist Domagoj Margetic last year, received a threatening letter from the Tribunal, warning me that I had, when taking up the post back in 2001, signed a declaration promising to respect the Tribunal’s confidentiality (Florence, too, apparently received such a letter when she first began publicly to speak about the ICTY). Although I did not take this threat seriously at the time, it appears my complacency has been misguided.

Florence is a brave, principled and committed individual who has done more than anyone to reveal the extent to which the international community and the international courts have betrayed the cause of justice for the former Yugoslavia. Although I disagree with some of what she says in her book, it is nevertheless a splendid, daming critique of this betrayal, and her accusations of Western complicity in Radovan Karadzic’s evasion of arrest for thirteen years have been essentially vindicated; I would recommend anyone interested in the subject to read it. Florence is fighting the battle for truth on behalf of all the victims of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and all present and future historians. We are 100% on her side.

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Monday, 1 September 2008 - Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Serbia |

3 Comments

  1. [...] Surbiton writes about the case of Florence Hartmann, former spokeswoman for ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte, [...]

    Pingback by Global Voices Online » The Balkans: Florence Hartmann and the ICTY | Friday, 5 September 2008

  2. [...] Greater Surbiton covered this last year and it is still rather relevant. [...]

    Pingback by United Nations War Crimes Tribunal And Florence Hartmann. « ModernityBlog | Saturday, 20 June 2009

  3. [...] Dokonca niekdajšia hovorkyňa Carly Del Ponte Florence Hartmann, ktorá v minulosti ICTY výrazne kritizovala za údajne laxný a pokrytecký prístup k obvineniam Srbov za genocídu v BaH, teraz označila [...]

    Pingback by Ramush Haradinaj – zo Švajčiarska cez Haag nazad do Kosova | O Balkáne | Friday, 30 November 2012


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