Serge Brammertz feels vindicated as he prepares for the trial of former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic in The Hague. But he says it's too soon to know if Mladic will face trial alongside his former boss, Radovan Karadzic. Brammertz spoke to Lauren Comiteau in The Hague.
And do you think your office played a role in putting constant pressure on Belgrade?
Today we recognise that the main work and the job has been done by the competent Serbian authorities, the so-called action team composed of the different operational services and the war crimes prosecutor coordinated by the National Security Council in Serbia. Of course we have over the last months, if not to say over the last three years, made recommendations on how to improve investigations insisting on having a more multidisciplinary approach. We see today that police services are much more involved than in the past. We have asked that leads are investigated simultaneously and not one after the other and that there has to be a very quick follow-up. We see that this has happened in the concrete case so we for sure think that we have played a constructive role in supporting the Serbian authorities in finalising this job.
How are you going to avoid such problems as at the Milosevic trial? Will you amend charges again possibly reducing them focusing maybe only on Srebrenica?
It is too early to take a decision in this regard. It is clear that our preferred option would of course be to go for the full indictment as it is today. As you know we have a number of months ago submitted an amended indictment which is in relation to the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia between ‘92 and ‘95 which is in relation to the siege of Sarajevo during the same period which is in relation to the genocide in Srebrenica and the hostage taking of blue helmets. Those are the main components of the current indictment. We will have to see, based on a number of factors, if this is the indictment which will at the end of the day be the one used or if there would be the need to amend it again. But it is really too early to tell.
But you’re ready to go to trial?
I don’t think that it is really a problem for the OTP. The crimes allegedly committed by Mladic have been prosecuted several times already at this tribunal. There have been several officers and general who worked under the authority of Mladic and have already been convicted, with important sentences. So we are quite satisfied that the evidence we have is convincing and we hope it will convince the judge. But at the end of the day it is of course up to the judges to decide about guilt.
Do you think you have a strong case?
That’s quite obvious.
I have been here for 15 years, many prosecutors have come and gone, everyone of course wanting Mladic, the final straw hat. How do you feel now that he is finally here?
I was in Croatia when I was informed about the operation. We had a meeting with forty prosecutors all from the countries of former Yugoslavia who are all dealing with war crimes cases and who are all facing still today very important problems. When I got this information from Belgrade that most likely the person which has been arrested was general Mladic I was immediately thinking about the victims’ organizations in the region and I have been a number of times, I met them more than ten times, I went to Srebrenica last year, I went to Sarajevo again three weeks ago. Speaking with victims’ organisations every time remind us about the importance of our work, reminds us to really insist also after 15 years that there can be no alternative to this arrest. So I was very, very pleased for the victims’ organisations, I was very pleased of course also for the tribunal, Mladic being one of the two remaining fugitives. But I think it is also a strong signal in support of international justice. It gives a strong signal that at the end of the day those suspected of being responsible for the worst crimes will at the end of the day be arrested.
Many of those victims in Bosnia are saying that it has come too late.
I fully understand their frustrations. We are also frustrated that it took so long. Of course the best option would have been to have this arrest 15 years ago. It would have been much better to have the arrest at the same time with the arrest of Karadzic in 2008. So I fully understand their frustrations because many of the victims, many survivors and family members died also in the meantime at the consequence of the crimes committed. They did not live to see Mladic face justice. So what we are saying to the victims is: it’s late but not too late. We very much hope that this trial can take place and will take place. And as the Office of the Prosecutor we will make sure everything is in order so that this trial can start as soon as possible.
I have also heard that Mladic is stalling in Belgrade trying to delay his transfer or appealing or possibly his health. What do you know?
I am really not in a position to speculate about those elements. The competent judge has decided that he was fit for transfer. He has now the possibility to appeal this decision, I don’t know if he will and depending on this decision the transfer can take place early next week or at a later stage.
The Tribunal is clearly on its way to fulfill its mandate, a big day for justice.
Absolutely, this tribunal, many people are for the last 15 years waiting for this moment working hard to support justice. We are in the so-called completion strategy. People in this tribunal know that their contracts are ending. The closure of the existence of the tribunal is there very, very soon. I think that the arrest finally of Mladic will be a very strong motivation for everybody to again put the remaining energy into this case to make sure that all together we serve justice once again.