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Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity's Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity Hardcover – January 20, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Del Ponte, protagonist of this dogged, hard-nosed memoir, was chief prosecutor for the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the biggest war crimes prosecution since WWII. Her investigations had her ousted from the Rwandan tribunal and insulted in Yugoslavia (Carla is a whore, Belgrade billboards proclaimed), and she lacked police powers to compel cooperation or even respect. Her mission became a battle between moral dudgeon and realpolitik. She repeatedly importunes government officials, especially the Serbs, to arrest and deliver up influential citizens for prosecution as war criminals; when they respond with evasions and stonewalling, she importunes world leaders to use their clout to force compliance with the tribunal's warrants. She accomplished much, including the prosecution of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, but the memoir wears itself out detailing her interminable, fruitless efforts to apprehend Serbian fugitives Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Del Ponte sometimes comes off as chief scold; even Vatican officials incur tongue-lashings. Her implacable quest for justice is admirable and at times illuminating, but it makes for a repetitive and exhausting read. (Jan.)
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New York Times Book Review
"Cynics argue that because the United Nations was unable to stop the carnage in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, it set up war crimes tribunals instead, as a kind of humanitarian consolation prize.
What the diplomats did not expect was Carla Del Ponte’s determination to bring the perpetrators to justice and to end the culture of impunity. As the attorney general of Switzerland, she had fought against the muro di gomma, the wall of rubber, that deflected her attempts to stop Mafia money-laundering. “Madame Prosecutor” is her account of battling the muro di gomma across the Balkans, Rwanda and Western capitals.
It is a relentless, sometimes (understandably) angry book, and an important insider’s account of the quest for international justice."
"Carla Del Ponte is not the quiet type. The tenacious European prosecutor took on some of the most powerful members of the Sicilian mafia, hammering away at their now infamous "pizza connection" with Swiss bankers. As head of the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, she hauled Slobodan Milosevic and dozens of others into court for war crimes, and investigated acts of genocide in Rwanda. Her enemies branded her "the whore" and plotted to blow her up with bombs, prompting the Swiss government to assign her around-the-clock bodyguards, who protect her to this day. Her investigative prowess impressed former FBI director Louis Freeh—and infuriated former CIA director George Tenet, whom she badgered for assistance in tracking Milosevic's henchmen. And in her new memoir, "Madame Prosecutor," the English-language edition of which was released this month, she courts fresh controversy by charging that officials at the United Nations and NATO failed to properly investigate allegations of Albanian atrocities against Serbs in Kosovo in 1999."
"Madame Prosecutor is a lengthy discussion of the heinousness of crimes against humanity and a poignant plea for a better international crimi-nal justice system. Using the imperfect system now in place, Del Ponte’s efforts to bring war criminals to trial are nothing short of fascinating and heroic. Her work contributed to the indictment, arrest, or prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic and dozens more. Sudetic’s experience as a New York Times reporter and author as well as his work as an analyst for the Yugoslavia tribunal and his current position as senior writer for the Open So-ciety Institute, also inform the politics and scope of Madame Prosecutor."
“Del Ponte, protagonist of this...hard-nosed memoir, was chief prosecutor for the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the biggest war crimes prosecution since WWII… Her implacable quest for justice is admirable…”
“The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda recounts eight years of frustration seeking justice for the victims of genocide and crimes against humanity.”
“Crucial historical depth…is what separates [Madame Prosecutor] from the dozens of others written by the diplomats and soldiers who have tangled with the Balkans.”
The New York Review of Books
“Carla del Ponte’s recollection and defense of her controversial tenure as the chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal…mercilessly searches for historical truth...What drove [Del Ponte] with a kind of manic fury was a desire to see justice done.”
Onetime Swiss Attorney General Carla Del Ponte was chief prosecutor for the international tribunals that went after the genocidal masterminds responsible for mass violence in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations With Humanity’s Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity (Other Press), coauthored with reporter-writer Chuck Sudetic, is her unforgettably brave story.
"Del Ponte offers a highly personal story of how she took on the awesome responsibility of prosecuting war crimes."
Top customer reviews
Del Ponte gives a decent enough background and description of the situation in Rwanda and Yugoslavia to put the cases against the different war criminals in perspective. However, del Ponte spent most of the book describing her encounters with the muro di gomma, the rubber wall. As chief prosecutor of the ICTY and the ICTR it was her responsibility to secure continued support and cooperation from the different countries involved in establishing these two international tribunals. Yet everywhere she turns she encounters opposition against her work. Many countries promise to help capture the accused, but few follow through on those promises in a timely fashion or at all. Del Ponte creates a very clear picture of how frustrating this hostility is, but it appears to only motivate her more.
Another interesting point del Ponte makes are about the cases she would have like to have prosecuted, but was incapable of doing due to a variety of reasons. She repeatedly speaks about her desire to bring Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to answer for their crimes during the Rwandan genocide and the aftermath. Del Ponto also presents evidence against the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) for organ trafficking, but cannot bring them to justice either.
Overall, the book is a very interesting read. It creates a very clear image of Del Ponte's work and also the international politics that complicate the road to justice for some of worst crimes of the previous century. Having said that, the book at times deals too much with the political wrangling behind the scenes and not enough on the cases being prosecuted by the tribunals.
The problem is certainly not with Del Ponte--she was a dogged worker, good manager and dedicated prosecutor. She does not come across as a person one would want as a friend but as someone to bring end the culture of impunity enjoyed by mass murderers. I doubt if a anyone could do better given the built-in constraints of the system.
Del Ponte was both ambitious, wanting success for its own sake and to continue her career but also fervent in her desire to get the people ultimately guilty for some of the worst crimes since the end of World War II. She is able to ignore the details of slaughter and refuses to prosecute the low level soldiers and police officers guilty of murder. She wants the monsters who initiated the reign of terror against helpless civilians in central Africa and Southeast Europe.
The biggest problem she faced is the willingness of the United States, France, the United Kingdom and other nations who have tried to seize the moral high ground recently to value diplomacy over justice. Another difficulty is the bureacracy of the UN itself. There are plenty of other reasons why the going has been slow and few of the guilty have been tried.
Spain showed the way when a court there indicted Augusto Pinochet for crimes committed during his term as dictator in Chile. Using the doctorine of universal jurisdiction--that some acts are so egregious that they constitute crimes against humanity and can therefore be prosecuted in any court in the world, they ruled that he was not immune to prosecution in Spain even though he had given amnesty in Chile.
Del Ponte worked for eight years to convict Balkan war lords and military leaders in the International Court of Justice at the Hague. The theme that runs throughtout the book is the constant tension between the need for justice and diplomatic expeniency. While most of Del Ponte's targets were brought to trial, several were found not guilty (or the charges found "not proven" on, in some cases, what later was found to be doctored evidence. The hundreds of years of warfare among Serbs, Croats, Albanians and Macedonians and among Roman Catholics, Orthodox Catholics and Muslims was continued with astonishing and brutality during break-up of the former Yugoslavia and the power and land grabs that followed it.
There is a lot of information--too much--on the bureaucratic battles Del Ponte had to fight. While it is important to understand how the ICJ itself, which seems more committed more to legalism, establishing its authority and creating precedent and procedure than to bringing war criminals to justice, the amount of detail and the meeting by meeting accounts of her frustration becomes frustrating reading.
She was, however, totally committed to her task. Del Ponte was one of the few figures who unifed southeastern Europe--everyone there hated her. She was addressed in official, for the record memos from Croatian political leaders as "Dear Madame Whore". She was villified in the press throughout the area and ignored by her targets whenever they could. Far from detering her, these attacks simply showed her that she was doing the right thing and going after the right people.
I would hate to have her after me. She is an indefatigable pursuer, a constant thorn in the side of slow moving officials and a dedicated, creative prosecutor. The end of the book is downbeat but not surprising--she had an arbitrary deadline and many of her targets knew that if they avoided her until her appointment expired they would be safe. By her standards she failed--the final words are "the simple fact of failure is the simple fact of failure" but it was a noble and necessary effort.
"Madame Prosecutor" is slow going at times--Del Ponte recounts some of her battles to have Serbian, Albanian and Croatian war ciminals arrested almost memo by memo and airport by airport--but it is generally well written and very timely.
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