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Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity's Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity

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Carla Del Ponte won international recognition as Switzerland's attorney general when she pursued cases against the Sicilian mafia. In 1999, she answered the United Nations' call to become the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. In her new role, Del Ponte confronted genocide and crimes against humanity head-on, struggling to bring to justice the highest-ranking individuals responsible for massive acts of violence in Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Kosovo.

These tribunals have been unprecedented. They operate along the edge of the divide between national sovereignty and international responsibility, in the gray zone between the judicial and the political, a largely unexplored realm for prosecutors and judges. It is a realm whose native inhabitants-political leaders and diplomats, soldiers and spies-assume that they can commit the big crime without being held culpable. It is a realm crisscrossed by what Del Ponte calls the muro di gomma -"the wall of rubber"- a metaphor referring to the tactics government officials use to hide their unwillingness to confront the culture of impunity that has allowed persons responsible for acts of unspeakable, wholesale violence to escape accountability. Madame Prosecutor is Del Ponte's courageous and startling memoir of her eight years spent striving to serve justice.

448 pages, Hardcover

First published October 21, 2008

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Carla Del Ponte

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Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews
Profile Image for Ed .
479 reviews31 followers
February 27, 2016
After reading "Madame Prosecutor" I am more convinced than ever that the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague, run by the United Nations and for which Carla Del Ponte was the chief prosecutor for crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, is not the best way or even a very good way to go after war criminals.

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 unified 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 vilified in the press throughout the area and ignored by her targets whenever they could. Far from deterring 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 criminals arrested almost memo by memo and airport by airport--but it is generally well written and very timely.
102 reviews10 followers
September 13, 2020
Generally, I have found the boo to be quite repetitive and felt like everything could be said in much fewer words. It was also full of names and dates, making it even harder to read.

Although I felt like the book did not provide me with as much detail about the ICTY as I had wanted it to, there was still more than enough to take from it.

The only reason why I see someone read this book is if they have a strong interest in the politics of the western Balkans or are interested in some of of the challenges faced by the ICTY. Though do not expect to get so much information about international criminal justice as a whole, like I did.
14 reviews1 follower
August 13, 2011
Ponte's book, like most memoirs, is rather repetitive and self-serving, but, like most memoirs, is all the same a worthy read (especially if, like me, one is able to sift through the muck to pull the little gems of info out of them).

I liked getting Ponte's perspective, as the chief prosecutor of International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia, on the issues. She wrote a lot less on Rwanda than on Yugoslavia, and, therefore, I found more value in what she said on the latter subject. My favorite bits were those in which she recounted her meetings with various officials and diplomats. With these, one can gain a better understanding of the personalities that forge policy, which is important because politics, in truth, is all about the people.

The book though, I'll say, is a tad too long, and requires skimming in some parts.

I'll add more details to this review later.
July 30, 2016
Olen meeldivalt üllatunud, et selline raamat eesti keelde tõlgiti, kuna see on ju nii spetsiifiline lugemine. Carla Del Ponte on tippjurist, endine Jugoslaavia ja Rwanda ÜRO sõjakuritegude tribunali peasüüdistaja. Tal oli oma visioon - riigid saavad rahus oma tulevikku luua alles siis, kui on saavutatud lepitus, kusjuures viimase juures on võtmetähtsusega õiglane kohtumõistmine sõjakurjategijate üle alates kõrgeimast poliitilisest ja sõjaväelisest ladvikust. Kui genotsiidile ei järgne õiglast kohtumõistmist ja kurjategijad elavad endiselt rahva seas edasi, olles kusjuures sageli võimupositsioonidel, siis jäävad haavad lahtiseks ja see jääb kummitama ka järgmisi põlvkondi.

Olgugi, et Carla Del Ponte oli eelkõige tippjurist, oli tema töö tihedalt seotud poliitikaga. Mulle jäi mulje, et liigagi tihti oldi valmis poliitilisel tasandil, sh nii majanduslikel kui ka diplomaatilistel eesmärkidel õiglusele käega lööma ja lähtuma pragmaatilisematest eesmärkidest.

Kahjuks, arvestades rahvusvahelist õigust ja riikide suveräänsust, on sõjakurjategijatest tipp-poliitikute ja -ohvitseride kohtu alla saamine ikka ülikeeruline protsess, mis võib võtta aastaid aega, kui üldse õnnestub. Seda põhjusel, et see riik ise peab tahtma oma sõjakurjategijaid välja anda (sageli aga ei taheta, mistõttu seda riiki survestatakse poliitiliselt nt stiilis, et saate liituda EL-ga siis, kui x ja y on kohtu alla toimetatud).

Veelgi keerulisemaks teeb asja see, et ka selles riigis endas on reeglina kõik osapooled nö määritud. Pean silmas seda, et kuigi üks (nt etniline) grupp alustab puhastustööd teise (nt etnilise) grupi vastu, siis genotsiidi edenedes ületavad mõlemad pooled lubatu piiri ja genotsiidi lõppedes on kumbki pool toime pannud massihukkamisi ja muid lubamatuid roimasid. Kohtupidamine aga lähtub piiride ületamisest - olgugi, et kättemaksuks, aga massihukkamiste jmt inimsusevastaste kuritegude läbiviimine on keelatud. Seega tekib olukord, kus riigis ei ole enam ühtegi osapoolt, kes tahaks kedagi välja anda, sest teatakse, et ka ise ollakse must. Eriti markantsel kujul oli see Rwandas nii.

Kõne alla võiks tulla kauba tegemine stiilis "Sa anna need isikud välja, siis me sind ei puutu". Aga Carla Del Ponte ei läinud kunagi sellise diili peale välja, sest tema seisukoha järgi on see siis poolik õigusemõistmine, mis ei saa olla seega ka õiglane. Kui juba kohut pidada, siis õiglaselt kõigi süüdlaste üle.

See on aga nüüd üks suur küsimus - kas eelistada pragmaatiliselt lahendust, kus vähemalt ühe poole üle kohut peetakse ning saavutada suurema tõenäosusega tulemusi või lähtuda ideaalist ehk mõista kohut kõigi süüdlaste üle sõltumata leerist ja riskida sellega, et suured tegijad ei pruugi kunagi süüpinki jõuda. Kas õiglus kannatab kompromisse, kui palju ja kui, siis milliseid? Üldiselt pigem ütleks, et õiglus sellist kompromissi ei kannata, kus kohut mõistetakse vaid ühe poole üle ja õigusemõistmise ajal võimupositsioonil olev pool pääseb. Lepitust siis ju ühiskonnas suure tõenäosusega ikkagi ei saabu.

Karistamatuse tunne on Carla Del Ponte sõnul see, mille vastu ta võitles. Seda põhjusel, et karistamatuse tunne on üks oluline tegur, mis võimaldab riigijuhtidel ränkraskeid inimsusevastaseid kuritegusid toime panna. Samas on kohtupidamised sõjakurjategijatest riigijuhtide üle paberil ilusad, aga reaalses elus ülimalt raskesti realiseeritavad, kuna kohut saavad pidada kas teised riigid või sama riik ise, kuid viimasel juhul näitab ajalugu pigem seda, et siis peetakse kohut väikeste tegijate üle ning suured jäävad karistamata.

Hindasin "Proua prokuröri" hindega 5 juba ainuüksi sel põhjusel, et üks tippjurist võttis ette ja kirjutas sellise raamatu valmis - tema enda vahetu kogemus muutis selle minu jaoks väärt lugemiseks, kuna tööga seotud juriidilisi ja eetilisi teemasid on kõrvalseisjal siiski väga raske avada. Lisaks hindan kõrgelt Carla Del Ponte soov teha midagi selleks, et vähendada karistamatuse tunnet riigijuhtide seas, kes püüdlevad ainuvõimu ja selle kuritarvitamise poole. Pean selliseid teoseid pigem haruldasteks.

Ja eraldi veel mu kummardus kirjastajale, kes lasi selle raamatu eesti keelde tõlkida.

Miinusena tooksin välja ehk seda, et raamatus oli vähe emotsioone. See oli eelkõige asjalik. Kuid selle kompenseerib siiski kõik see, millest kirjutasin eelnevalt ja tegelikult veel rohkemgi.

Minul tekkis küll igatahes huvi selle vastu, et milline on üldse diplomaatia roll maailmaasjade ajamisel ja selle õiguslik raamistik, kuna Carla Del Ponte raamatust jäi mulje, et diplomaatias tehakse väga palju kompromisse, mida näiteks õiguse mõistmisel kurjategijate üle teha ei saa. Ja sealt edasi, et kuidas need kaks maailma koos saavad eksisteerida parimal võimalikul moel.
Profile Image for Charlie Avus.
14 reviews6 followers
November 4, 2013
After studying international law as part of my degree at university, I got quite interested in the area and whether it had any use in the world today. Carla Del Ponte is perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring and commendable lawyers in the world. She shows that lawyers don't act for their own self-interest and that international law is able to back up its bark with a few well-placed bites. There aren’t really words to describe just how determined, focused and passionate Carla Del Ponte is about pursuing her goal of justice and ending impunity for international political leaders. Described as the ‘personification of stubbornness’ by the former Judge Giovanni Falcone, she certainly lived up to that description as chief prosecutor.

The book recounts her experiences in the Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. It is also honest about the difficulties that international law faces in bringing people to justice and how even states who have declared that they will help, end up opposing the moves for justice. It brings to light the priorities of Western nations and how the view of politicians needs to change.

If you are looking for a book that gives you hope that international law can be enforced, or that the law can be used to help people, or if you’re just looking for someone to be inspired by, then this book is for you. It provides a fascinating insight into the intricate politics of international relations, the problems that international law faces and the determination of a prosecutor to ensure that no country and no leader is beyond the reach of the law.
Profile Image for Mirëdon Fusha.
44 reviews13 followers
September 21, 2012
I feel sorry for the blank pages which are filled with ugly lies and later become known as a "book". I feel sorry for the author too who succesfully disgraced herself eternally by not heeding the priceless advice "DO NOT WRITE WHEN YOU'RE ANGRY". Not that she only wrote but she even had the "brains" she does not have, to publish her anger. I wander what really made her angry, though?! Money...she didn't get?!
Profile Image for Luke.
2 reviews1 follower
December 15, 2016
Great narration of the highly complicated role of General Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The book is engaging, fast paced and exhaustive of the real-politik which hides beyond the official speeches of our leading politicians.

A must-read book for all persons willing to work at International Institutions or at higher degrees of National Politics.
Profile Image for Zam.
26 reviews2 followers
March 14, 2013
A very good account of the establishment of ICTY and the ad hoc tribunals in general. Also, it's good introduction to those interested in the functionality of the international criminal courts. In short, the book explains the shortcomings of the so-called international justice which reflects the realpolitik and the logic of power in the international politics.
Profile Image for Jenny.
1,374 reviews5 followers
March 27, 2009
The new memoir by Carla Del Ponte (former Chief Prosecutor of the Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda) shows her frustration about politics interfering with the pursuit of justice. Her quest to bring Ratko Mladic to The Hague reminded me of Ahab and Moby Dick.
Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews

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