Croatia Interview 'Carla Del Ponte Didn't Cave In'

The final breakthrough this week that enabled the start of accession negotiations between Turkey and Croatia and the European Union was made possible by the chief prosecutor of the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. SPIEGEL ONLINE talks with the German government's human rights coordinator and former UN special representative to Kosovo, Tom Koenigs, about Carla Del Ponte's sudden change of heart.


Mr. Koenigs, Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the Balkans war crimes tribunal, made the surprising announcement on Monday that Croatia was "cooperating fully" with the search for the war criminal Ante Gotovina. The comment came just days after she complained about Croatia's cooperation. Soon after she changed her tune, the European Union not only opened the door to Turkey for EU accession talks, but also to Croatia. Austria, which had been blocking talks with Turkey, immediately softened its position. Did Del Ponte cave in to the political pressure?

Koenigs: Del Ponte said that the situation had improved, and I have to believe her. Because she has, until now, been well known for saying the most uncomfortable things at the most uncomfortable times, I don't think that she caved in this time.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It still seemed as though she were acting more as a politician than as a prosecutor. It has been reported that many in The Hague are upset by her about face.

Koenigs: She has always made people angry -- it's her job. This time, the ones that she upset happen to be her own people in her own office. I really don't know if she was put under pressure over the weekend. But I know Ms. Del Ponte as someone who wouldn't succumb to such pressure. I don't only know her as an unrelenting prosecutor, but also as somebody who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty.

SPIEGEL: The extradition of suspected war criminals used to be a prerequisite for the start of accession talks with the European Union. Is that no longer true? That's the impression the Serbians are now being given.

Koenigs: That depends, of course, on the way in which one is hoping to get a hold of suspected war criminals. I'm convinced that the closer Croatia gets to Europe, the closer we will get to the extraditions. And I think that the start of negotiations will improve the situation in the middle and longterm. Nevertheless, Del Ponte cannot be the only one to put pressure on the candidates -- the EU must also do so. Additionally, an intensive dialogue with Croatia will also lead to war crimes suspects being captured sooner. I also expect the same for Serbian perpetrators. Lastly, negotiations over a stability and association agreement are already underway between the EU and Serbia and Montenegro.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Croatian ex-General Ante Gotovina has gone underground, but he made an announcement yesterday. He'll only stand trial before a Croatian court, he said. What's wrong with that?

Koenigs: Well, first of all, this move of his suggests he's been cornered. But what's wrong with a trial in Croatia is that all Europeans want and should support and strengthen the tribunal in The Hague. Also, it's a question of equal treatment for war criminals. I think it's proper that Slobodan Milosevic has been jailed in The Hague, and I want the same for Gotovina.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was the decision by the EU foreign ministers to re-start accession talks with Croatia the only possible one? Would a denial have limited chances for the rest of the Balkans?

Koenigs: I'm afraid so. And there are reasons to extend the possibility of EU membership to those countries. One of the most successful fields for the EU has been human rights. Since talks with the EU started, human rights in Turkey, Croatia, and also in Serbia have rapidly improved -- especially in enforcing human rights demands. Everyone who's worked in the region knows there's no alternative for the future besides a European alignment for the people there.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: From 1999 till 2002 you were the UN's deputy special envoy to Kosovo. How will the upcoming UN report on Kosovo look? What status will the region receive in the future?

Koenigs: The open questions on Kosovo can't remain open indefinitely, and in the end they can really only be solved with a European perspective. The report, from what I know, recommends first of all that intensive status negotiations should start. And the EU needs to take a lead role in those talks. In the long run I can't imagine the area remaining under a UN mandate. I think it will have to be handed over to the EU.

Interview conducted by Lars Langenau

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