U.N. to Replace War Court Attorney

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will tell Carla del Ponte at a meeting today that he wants to replace her as chief prosecutor for the court trying genocide and war crimes cases from Rwanda, a U.N. source said. Miss Del Ponte is in charge of prosecutions at both the Rwanda tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, and at the Hague-based court trying war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia.

Mr. Annan’s decision to recommend that the roles be split follows criticism of Miss Del Ponte’s work on the Rwanda tribunal and the perception of African member states that the Arusha court is playing “second fiddle” to its European counterpart, according to diplomats at the United Nations. Miss Del Ponte, who is based in The Hague, will be asked to continue her role at the court there.

Mr. Annan was scheduled to meet with Miss Del Ponte today and will tell her “he wants to separate the two jobs, and appoint a new prosecutor for the [International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda],” a U.N. source who requested anonymity told UPI over the weekend.

Chief U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard had no comment on the matter.

Florence Hartmann, Miss Del Ponte’s spokeswoman, also did not want to comment ahead of the meeting today, saying only that separating the jobs would “undermine the authority, independence and credibility of the tribunals.”

The Rwanda tribunal began work in 1995, the year after the country’s ruling Hutu elite orchestrated the massacre of hundreds of thousands of minority Tutsis and their politically moderate Hutu allies. Miss Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney general, was appointed chief prosecutor for both tribunals in 1999, succeeding Louise Arbour of Canada for a four-year term that is up for renewal in September.

Mr. Annan’s recommendation has to be approved by the 15-member Security Council, which set up both tribunals. But the U.N. source said the secretary-general had already held informal consultations, and that none of the five veto-wielding permanent members had objected to the plan. “There is consensus on the council,” the source said.

Another U.N. diplomat, also unwilling to be named, said four or five non-veto nations on the Security Council were uneasy about the idea. They “are worried that [the move] will do more harm than good,” the diplomat said. They “are saying, more or less, ‘we don’t understand [why this should happen].’ ”

The Rwandan government has been unhappy with Miss Del Ponte for more than a year, since she announced that the tribunal would seek to prosecute members of the mainly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Army for crimes committed during the genocide.

The RPA is the armed wing of the now-ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, and was responsible for killing “thousands of civilians, in the process committing war crimes and crimes against humanity,” according to the global rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch.

The RPF government struck back at Miss Del Ponte, preventing witnesses from traveling to the tribunal and withdrawing other forms of cooperation.
The Rwandan government wants her replaced “not for reasons of efficiency or effectiveness,” said Miss Del Ponte’s spokeswoman, but rather because she was being too effective. “They want to stop the investigation of the RPF,” she said.

Although Miss Del Ponte has been lauded for her work on the tribunals, some observers suggest that her blunt personal style and lack of diplomatic and political skills left her with few allies as criticisms of her role in Arusha grew. “It is a really tough job,” said one lawyer who has dealt with her, “but she has not made things easier for herself.
“She is politically tone deaf,” the lawyer, who is a critic of the tribunals, went on. “Unlike [her predecessor] she never took the time to stroke officials at the U.N., or to build relationships with any of the permanent five [Security Council members].”

But at the United Nations, Miss Del Ponte’s critics and defenders were unanimous that it was not about personality. “Everyone agrees it is not personal,” the U.N. diplomat said. “The objective is to get the best justice for the victims of these crimes.”

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