Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Unusual Yugoslav War-Crimes Tribunal Case: Was It Contempt?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Unusual Yugoslav War-Crimes Tribunal Case: Was It Contempt?

Article excerpt

Given the rogue's gallery of paramilitary thugs and genocide- ordering generals who have populated the lists of the accused at the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal at The Hague, it is unusual to find a former court spokeswoman on trial this week.

Florence Hartmann, who covered the Balkan war for Le Monde and was chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte's media aide, is charged with contempt for her 2007 book describing a court deal with Belgrade to keep evidence secret.

Legally, the case falls into a gray area. It pits questions of free-speech practices against court rules, forbidding disclosure, that ensure the court is a reliable body, scholars say.

But the larger underlying issue revolves around history: whether the four-year Bosnian war is formally defined as a genocide orchestrated by Serbia, court watchers say.

Ms. Hartmann's book contains pages on a confidential tribunal deal with Belgrade over a trove of high-value evidence from the Supreme Defense Council (SDC) of the Serbian Army. Boxes of minutes and records were turned over by the relatively friendly Zoran Djindjic government after Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic was toppled and sent to The Hague in 2000.

The boxes showed a dense interrelationship between the Serbian Army and the Bosnian Serb militias, including Gen. Ratko Mladic, in the Srebrenica massacre. Such relations were long denied by Belgrade. The SDC material gave Ms. Del Ponte enough confidence to charge Mr. Milosevic with genocide.

However, Belgrade handed over the boxes under a deal known as Rule 54bis - that they not be made public or used outside the tribunal for reasons of state security.

"That was not your average deal" between Belgrade and the tribunal, offers one former court legal consultant. "At the core of the charges Hartmann is facing is a struggle over the interpretation of the SDC material, and how it was handled. …

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