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Del Ponte sticks to her guns in Milosevic trial

Del Ponte has no intention of letting Milosevic off the hook Keystone

Swiss war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has rejected demands that she drop genocide charges against former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.

This content was published on March 18, 2004 - 17:05

The chief prosecutor for the United Nations tribunal in The Hague says she plans to pursue all the charges against Milosevic despite the absence of a “smoking gun”.

Milosevic has been on trial for the past two years accused of genocide and war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s.

The prosecution rested its case last month, and the court is in recess until June when Milosevic is due to begin his defence.

The most serious indictment accuses him of committing genocide in Bosnia in connection with the deaths of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats between 1992 and 1995.

But three independent lawyers, acting as friends of the court, have filed a motion for acquittal on many of the 66 counts in Milosevic’s indictment – including genocide – alleging that the prosecution has failed to support the charges with evidence.

Genocide

The prosecution has until Monday to respond to the motion but, according to Del Ponte, it plans to maintain its count of genocide.

“I’m fighting to obtain the conviction of Milosevic for genocide,” Del Ponte told swissinfo.

“It’s extremely difficult to prove genocide or the special intent to destroy a [racial, national or ethnic] group or part of such a group,” she added.

“We have some evidence but we don’t have a smoking gun… so let’s see if we can convince the judges that despite what we’re missing, including a confession, he can be convicted.”

She added that her main concern was that Milosevic be “held criminally responsible”.

Court’s credibility

Legal experts consider Milosevic's trial to be the most important since Nazi leaders were brought to account after the Second World War, and it has been called a test for international justice.

But it has been plagued by setbacks over the past two years, such as illnesses among the key players.

On Wednesday the tribunal paid tribute to Richard May, who has resigned as presiding judge on health grounds.

Milosevic, who is currently preparing his defence, has also been ill on and off throughout the trial, causing lengthy delays.

The slow progress has prompted sceptics to question whether the trial risks becoming a footnote in history, overshadowed by terrorism and events in the Middle East.

But, Del Ponte, an experienced and tenacious crime-fighter, says she doesn't care how long it takes to bring Milosevic to justice.

“For an outsider, the Milosevic trial may be getting boring,” she said. “But we cannot speed up the trial because terrorism is happening and, in the end, I have no doubt that we will see a conviction and sentencing.”

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

The Hague Tribunal is the first international body prosecuting war crimes since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials held after the Second World War.

It was established by the UN Security Council in May 1993 to try individuals accused of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia since 1991.

The offences include genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and violations of the laws or customs of war.

The maximum sentence it can hand down is life imprisonment. It cannot try suspects in absentia.

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