The New York Times
Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity's Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunityby Carla Del Ponte, Chuck Sudetic
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.
The New York Times
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.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Del Ponte was the attorney general of Switzerland, aggressively prosecuting money-laundering cases against the Mafia, when she was tapped for the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia. The job of chief prosecutor was tailor-made for Del Ponte, who had taken on what she calls the "culture of impunity" that made Mafia bosses almost impossible to prosecute, and she was equally determined to bring those responsible for genocide to justice. But she soon found herself fighting not only criminals but governments, the UN, and even her own staff. She had triumphs (Milan Babic took a plea bargain) and disappointments (Slobodan Milosevic died during trial; Radovan Karadzic was arrested only after her tenure was up). The writing is dry and awkward, probably because English is not Del Ponte's first language, but her strength and determination to break through the muro di gomma(wall of rubber, or diplomatic doubletalk) and fight the culture of impunity shine through. An important story that belongs in all academic libraries and in large public libraries where there is interest.
Deirdre Bray Root
- Other Press, LLC
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Read an Excerpt
I should have known better. I trusted Tenet to put action behind his words. I assumed he was not erecting something we Italian speakers call the muro di gomma, the wall of rubber, the rejection disguised so it won’t appear as a rejection. So often, when you approach powerful people with an unwelcome request or demand, your words bounce back. You seem to hear what you want to hear. You might even sense that your effort has yielded something of substance.
My career had begun with a long series of collisions with the muro di gomma, sometimes followed by cruder forms of resistance as well as physical threats. I had encountered, and would encounter, the muro di gomma during meetings with many powerful people, from mafia financiers to Swiss bankers and politicians, from heads of state such as George W. Bush and prime ministers like Silvio Berlusconi to bureaucrats in government offices and the various departments of the United Nations and, late in my tenure, European foreign ministers who seemed to be prepared to welcome Serbia into the European Union’s embrace even as Serbia’s political leaders, police, and army were harboring men responsible for killing thousands of prisoners in cold blood before the eyes of the world. The only way I know of breaching the muro di gomma and serving the interests of justice is by asserting my will, consistently and persistently.
Meet the Author
Carla Del Ponte
Carla Del Ponte was chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia from 1999 to 2007 and chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda from 1999 to 2003. Her work contributed to the indictment, arrest, or prosecution of dozens of persons accused of genocide and other war crimes, including Slobodan Milosevic, Theoneste Bagosora, and two of the world’s most-wanted men, Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. Del Ponte has received numerous awards and honors. She is currently Switzerland’s ambassador to Argentina.
Co-author Chuck Sudetic reported for the New York Times from 1990 to 1995 on the breakup of Yugoslavia and the transition from communism in other Balkan countries. He is the author of Blood and Vengeance (1998), and his articles have appeared in The Economist, The Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, and Mother Jones, among others. From 2001 to 2005, he worked as an analyst for the Yugoslavia Tribunal. He is now a senior writer for the Open Society Institute (Soros Foundation) and is completing a book about the Adriatic town of Dubrovnik. He resides in Paris.
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