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From the April 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 4)

People

Carla Del Ponte: Legal Eagle


Debora Kuan
World Press Review assistant editor

Carla Del Ponte
Carla Del Ponte at The Hague, March 6, 2002 (Photo: AFP).
Carla Del Ponte is not afraid of making enemies. In fact, she takes pride in the insults her enemies have slung at her: “the new Gestapo,” “the whore,” and “the unguided missile.” To her, the name-calling is merely testament to the fact that she is doing her job: bringing criminals to justice.

As chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Del Ponte, 55, has accused former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic of committing genocide against Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as war crimes in Croatia and Kosovo. The historic trial opened on Feb. 12 and is expected to last for at least two years.

Del Ponte says she is a woman “who never served anyone or anything but the law.” This dogged determination for justice characterizes all of her investigations. In the late 1980s, she exposed the connection between the Sicilian mafia’s drug trade and Swiss money launderers, which came to be known as the “pizza connection.” Incensed by Del Ponte’s findings, members of the Cosa Nostra tried to assassinate her by placing half a ton of explosives in the foundations of her Palermo home. Amazingly, the bomb was found before it could detonate, and she survived.

Her close friend and colleague, Judge Giovanni Falcone, was not as fortunate. He was blown up in his car after three years of instrumental work in dismantling the Cosa Nostra network. His untimely death only enhanced Del Ponte’s quest for justice.

At Arusha, Tanzania, Del Ponte prosecuted Hutus charged in the 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsi in Rwanda. She has also in the course of her career implicated Russian leader Boris Yeltsin in a financial scandal, frozen the bank accounts of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and seen that more than US$100 million was confiscated from Raúl Salinas, the brother of disgraced Mexican President Carlos Salinas, according to the BBC.

Born in Lugano, Switzerland, Del Ponte, a petite woman barely over five feet tall and a self-professed chain-smoker, began her legal career as a local lawyer. She then became an investigating magistrate, a public prosecutor, and the Swiss attorney general.

Despite her formidable résumé, this legal powerhouse confesses that she is deeply affected by her encounters with survivors of war crimes. In an interview with Het Financieele Dagblad at The Hague, she said, “I still get emotional when I meet survivors. You feel you are the symbol of something they must reach. Justice. You feel the responsibility. You see the hope in their faces.”


 
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