I’ve been covering the Balkans off and on for a decade, and it’s fascinating to me that these two men, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, have been allowed to remain at large. Now, I was on my way to interview the woman who’s spent years criticizing and cajoling governments and their armies to arrest or hand them over.
By the time we met with Carla Del Ponte on a misty January morning at her office in The Hague, producer Joe Rubin and I had spent two frigid weeks bouncing between Bosnia and Belgrade trying to figure out who was in charge of capturing Europe’s most notorious war criminals. How many gaps would Del Ponte be able to fill in for our story? And I have to admit, I was a little intimidated by meeting the Swiss prosecutor -- a woman who’s been branded “the new Gestapo” and worse by Serbian ultranationalists and who, since her appointment to the war tribunal in 1999, has made it her top priority to bring those responsible for atrocities in the Balkans to account. – Jennifer Glasse
Jennifer Glasse: Do you come here every morning thinking that today might be the day you bring in Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic?
Carla Del Ponte: No, no, no. Not really. Fortunately, we have all the other issues to discuss and to solve and the preparation for trials on-going. But of course, once a day we discuss Karadzic and Mladic, because we are following very closely what happened in Belgrade, in Montenegro. In general, I’m expecting each day it could be a good day, particularly with Mladic.
How important is this to you?
Oh, it is a priority of course. It is a priority here in our office because Karadzic and Mladic, after Milosevic, are the most responsible for the crimes committed there [in Bosnia] -- particularly genocide -- so we have these two “genociders” who are still at large and hiding in his [Milosevic’s] own country. So it is particularly important for us to have both before 2008 and to put them on trial.
Do you feel the international community -- NATO, Eufor -- are cooperating enough?
If it were enough, I would have both here in detention. So the answer is no. Neither the nations nor the inter-nations are doing enough to locate [them].
I think the political authorities want to deliver Mladic to The Hague. But the difficulty now is that the army doesn’t know exactly today in which military building he’s hiding so they cannot find him in time to arrest him.
That’s a good question. My answer, of course, is a bad one because you have different motivations. We know for sure Mladic is in Serbia. We know for sure and nobody is contesting that Mladic is protected by part of the army. So why are they not searching for him or arresting him or transferring him? A few months ago, it was not political to do it. But now, after the pressure from the international community, it is changing. I think the political authorities want to deliver Mladic to The Hague. But the difficulty now is that the army doesn’t know exactly today in which military building he’s hiding so they cannot find him in time to arrest him.
The Serbian media is reporting that a phone call has been intercepted from Mladic and that authorities know where he is and his arrest is imminent.
That’s not true. They did not intercept a phone call. And they are not in direct contact with Mladic. It is an indirect contact with Mladic, let’s say, from the officials who are searching and looking for him. But what is true is that since a few months ago, they were trying to persuade Mladic into voluntary surrender -- something they have done with many others [war criminals] they delivered in the beginning of last year. I think only now they accept that they must provide an arrest. I spoke with [Serbian] Prime Minister Kostunica, and I asked him expressly, “Are you ready to arrest him?” And he told me, “Yes.”
Why would you believe him? He’s been strongly against the tribunal until recently.
Yes, but I believe [what he says] until I have no contrary evidence, because I have no choice.
In Belgrade, we spoke to a man named Goran Petrovic who was a former head of state security. He said he wanted to bring in Mladic in 2001. He said Kostunica, among others, was among the officials who blocked him and actually moved him out of power.
Yes, yes it is possible because you know Prime Minister Kostunica, when he came to power and I had my first meeting with him, it was not really satisfactory because he told me he was very angry that Serbs are only victims. And, of course, if you start from this point of view it’s difficult to have a fruitful discussion about cooperation with the tribunal. But I’m convinced that Prime Minister Kostunica changed his mind about cooperation with us because politically he cannot avoid [it].
What do you think changed his mind?
I think he finally understands that the future of Serbia is to enter in the European Union. And so the pressure of the European Union is extremely important for us. And so he accepts to cooperate.
You were saying that there’s no question in your mind that Ratko Mladic is in Serbia.
We spoke to NATO and to Eufor; they said they didn’t know where these guys are. How do you know?
We receive different information from different sources we have. We are in contact with national authorities -- police, secret service of Serbia – and we verify our information. And in working together with the nationals, we received the confirmation that Mladic is in Serbia. Even the authority in Belgrade confirmed to us that until 2002, they have evidence that Mladic was in Serbia.
We saw some pictures of a bunker that was uncovered in October 2004. Are you aware of this bunker that Mladic allegedly used in Belgrade?
Yes, yes. Near to the government building.
So what does that say to you?
It was a bunker but there was no sign that Mladic was there. I was informed.
Mr. Ljajic, who is the minister in charge of cooperation with The Hague said we’ve looked in 10 different places over the last year and we haven’t found him; we’re cooperating; we’re turning over papers. Is that true?
Yes about Minister Ljajic, I have no doubt that he is willing and honest in what he’s saying, but he’s not informed. He’s absolutely outside the decision makers in the government.
Do you think Kostunica has enough sway over the military to deliver these men?
Of course not. If Prime Minister Kostunica had enough power over the military, I’m convinced that he would provide the arrest of Mladic. But he has no power over them because it is the president of the federation who is the chief of the ministry of defense, of the army. The army is a powerful institution in the country.
If Prime Minister Kostunica had enough power over the military, I’m convinced that he would provide the arrest of Mladic. But he has no power over them because it is the president of the federation who is the chief of the ministry of defense, of the army.
How do you persuade them to cooperate?
It depends now on the new Minister of Defense, Zoran Stankovic. I met him before he was appointed minister of defense and he promised me that he would deliver and transfer Mladic. But I’m still expecting, because I have no signs that he is doing something concrete. What is positive now is that the civil authorities are working together with the military. Until now, they were separate and not communicating with each other. But as I said, in my view, it is important that the pressure from the international community stay very strong.
In your address to the U.N. in December 2005, you called it a game of cat and mouse. You were unequivocal.
What did you mean by that?
When politics is interfering in the judicial, you always have a problem solving this issue of the arrest of fugitives, searching for documents, access to witnesses. And the international community, European Union, or even the United States are supporting us but always with political thinking. And sometimes it’s a real frustration for us.
Can you give me any example?
One example that comes to my mind now is the European Union. The European Union started negotiation with Belgrade in October 2005. But, of course it was a conditional cooperation with the tribunal. No mention of the arrest and transfer of Mladic; just talk of full cooperation or cooperation with the tribunal. So it’s not enough. But they thought they would deliver Mladic -- first for the Dayton anniversary, then the Srebrenica in July. After, the Dayton commemoration, Mladic is still at large. So now it should be important that the European Union stop this negotiation and say, “We suspend the negotiation because you have not delivered Mladic.” Apparently this is not possible. Politically, they [the E.U.] think it is not appropriate to do it. So I will try to go to Brussels next week to pursue it, to convince them we need help from the European Union.
Are there double standards happening here? If these people were part of Al Qaeda, do you think the United States would be a little more motivated to go get them?
The answer is too easy. Of course, of course. September 11 -- it was yesterday. And so there is motivation. Ten years have passed and it is not a priority anymore. I think the international community diverts the resources to what is a priority. Karadzic and Mladic they must be arrested. But what are they doing? Don’t forget that my office can do nothing to properly arrest Karadzic and Mladic. We depend on the help of the states, of the nation, of the internationals.
NATO says we do intelligence. Eufor says we’ll go if we get the command from NATO. Everybody says it’s state responsibility. There seem to be a lot of people saying, “I have a very narrow mandate…”
Cat and mouse, as I said. You have that answer maybe because you see NATO is doing intelligence; but less now because most intelligence is on the fight against terrorism. Eufor is expecting NATO to give what? To give information about the whereabouts of Karadzic? What we miss is a staff of specialized police who can elaborate a strategy to locate him.
Mladic offered to take U.N. peacekeepers on a tour of Han Pijesak [his military headquarters], and EUFOR declined to pick him up. We’ve heard stories that Richard Holbrooke made a deal with the war criminals that if they didn’t cause trouble they wouldn’t be arrested. Have you heard anything about this political deal?
Yes, of course, of course. We even tried to conduct an investigation to verify if it’s true or not. I must say that we did not come to a conclusion, so it’s still an open issue if it was an agreement or not. Even if it were an agreement, it’s not valid anymore. The administration changed in the United States. President Bush told me personally about Karadzic: “We will get him.” So I have no doubt that the international community and the United States are supporting us and Karadzic would be arrested. What you are telling me is history and I don’t care because it is the past. I’m sure if I would know today the location of Karadzic, I would obtain the arrest of him.
Even in Serbia?
Even in Serbia.
When did President Bush say to you that they would catch him?
When he came to Holland, when was it? I don’t know anymore….but to the American cemetery for the commemoration [for World War II ]. I was invited and I asked to have a short possibility to speak with him. And I spoke with him.
And have things gotten better since then?
Unfortunately not. But, we’ll see.
I’m very confident about my friend Ambassador Burns [the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs]. I met him in December in Washington and really he is a great supporter of what we are doing and I know him from Brussels, from NATO. I count on him and on his position to be able to be a success.
We’ve all heard stories about the Americans going to Italy and lifting Al Qaeda suspects, of renderings throughout Europe. Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are indicted for crimes against humanity. Twice the number of people died in Srebrenica than died in the World Trade Center attack. At what point do you think unilateral international action or state action could be mandated or accepted or even discussed?
What do you mean about unilateral state action?
I mean if you say to Serbia, “Give him to us by the January 25 or we’re going to go in and get him ourselves?”
Yes, of course it’s possible because we have an arrest warrant or an international arrest warrant so you know the problem is to find out the exact location of Mladic or Karadzic. But I have no doubt that once we have established [his location] that Serbia will arrest him.
After all this time, in terms of justice, what would it mean to bring Mladic to The Hague? Some people in Bosnia say it’s a joke; it’s been 10 years; it’s all politics. And …
Srebrenica is a genocide. It is a factual and legally recognized genocide. And Mladic is one of the most responsible for this genocide. So I think it would be extremely important that Mladic would appear in a Srebrenica trial.
And what? You have survivors, you have victims who expect justice and it would be great if Mladic would be delivered in a few days or a few weeks so that we can put him into the Srebrenica trial. We have the Srebrenica trial; we have eight accused in detention, expecting trial. One is still at large. But if Mladic were arrested, I would put him in the Srebrenica trial. That will start in June or July. Let’s get him immediately appearing before a trial chamber. Srebrenica is a genocide. It is a factual and legally recognized genocide. And Mladic is one of the most responsible for this genocide. So I think it would be extremely important that Mladic would appear in a Srebrenica trial.
Joe Rubin: How can you really rely on Kostunica? Basically, what you’re saying is what everyone else is saying, that the army is hiding him [Mladic]; that elements of the secret police are hiding him. You talk about cat and mouse but isn’t he the mouse? There are people I’ve talked to close to Djindjic [the former Serbian prime minister who was assassinated in 2003] and they feel like Kostunica is playing a game with you.
It’s possible. But as I said, if I have no contrary evidence, I believe him. Politically, he’s under pressure. And politically, finally, he knows that for the future of Serbia, he must deliver Mladic. And he told me that. I have no choice but to believe him and expect results.
We talked to a lot of young people in Serbia and that you’re either a despised figure or a loved figure. I spoke to people who said there should actually be a statue to Carla del Ponte in Belgrade. So, a lot of people are very fond of what you’re doing here and admire your courage. But some people feel stuck; they feel like it’s not their fault that they were born with Serbian blood and they feel this angst that they can’t travel here to lovely Holland or Amsterdam or be a part of Europe. And they feel like maybe you’re trapping them. How do you feel about that?
I think the young people are the ones who best understand what we are doing here. And as you said, the young people, the new generation that is coming, must not carry the past from this conflict. They must be delivered from that. And I think that what we are doing here is extremely important, extremely important. Justice must be done for the future and for this new generation. Because if justice is not done, it is just a follow-up to a request for revenge.
Jennifer Glasse: Many of the young people felt, certainly in Belgrade, that you’re very anti-Serb.
No more I think. It was at the beginning. Statistics, of course, show many indictments against the Serbs. But I think now it is not the same situation because we showed that we have accused from all the three ethnic groups. As I said many times, I’m just a prosecutor. I’m just working with evidence that I can collect to issue indictments so sometimes we have not enough evidence and we cannot continue. But we are doing our best with all the difficulties we have.
Do you feel that the tribunal has made a difference for the former Yugoslavia? For the victims, for the perpetrators…
Oh yes I hope so. It is important we achieve the mandate from the [U.N.] Security Council. Without Kardzic and Mladic, it will be only half a success. After Karadzic and Mladic, and the other four fugitives that I have, after that yes it will be extremely important for the former Yugoslavia that we were able to execute the mandate of the Security Council.
And what if you don’t get them? You’re supposed to shut down by 2008, is that correct?
What’s to keep the governments from sitting on their hands for another two years?
I think the Security Council understands that we will not close the door on this tribunal without having Karadzic and Mladic.
This is the edited transcript of an interview that took place at The Hague in January 2006.Back to top