UN war crimes court to free ex-official after jail time for contempt

AFP , Tuesday 29 Mar 2016

A former official in the UN court trying those accused of Balkans war crimes was Tuesday set to be freed after spending five days in the same jail as notorious ex-leaders like Radovan Karadzic.

French national Florence Hartmann, who served for six years as the spokeswoman for the court's ex-prosecutor, was to be released later Tuesday and was gathering her things together, lawyer Guenael Mettraux told AFP, adding she was "very happy."

It had been a very public fall for Hartmann, who Mettraux said was "completely shocked" when she was dramatically arrested on Thursday on an outstanding warrant issued in 2011 for contempt of court.

After evading justice for several years, things came to a head on Thursday when Hartmann was ignominiously detained outside the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in front of a crowd of international journalists and demonstrators.

A former journalist and Balkans correspondent for the French daily Le Monde, Hartmann had unexpectedly turned up at the tribunal in The Hague to attend the verdict in Karadzic's long-running trial on charges of genocide and war crimes in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Hartmann, 53, was grabbed by blue-shirted UN guards in front of the tribunal where she had worked as the spokeswoman for former prosecutor Carla Del Ponte between 2000-2006 as demonstrators tried to shield her.

The ICTY said it was just exercising a warrant issued after Hartmann failed to pay a fine imposed by the court for revealing details of two confidential appeals chamber decisions in her book published in 2007.

In 2009, Hartmann was initially fined 7,000 euros ($7,800) for contempt for disclosing confidential information in her book "Paix et Chatiment" (Peace and Punishment).

Two years later in 2011, after Hartmann had not paid the fine, ICTY judges sentenced her to seven days in jail and asked French authorities to arrest her. The French foreign ministry refused.

The data, which emerged during the trial of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, allegedly implicated the Serbian state in the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, Bosnia.



Mettraux said Hartmann had "been aware of the risk" involved in attending Karadzic's hearing, but she had wanted to lend her support to the victims groups who also travelled from abroad for the keenly-awaited judgement.

Over the weekend he filed a series of applications to the ICTY to "modify" the circumstances under which Hartmann was held, describing it as "suicide watch conditions." He had also called for her early release.

A court spokesman denied to AFP that Hartmann had been held in isolation, saying she had been segregated from the men, but was the only woman in the court's detention unit in the seaside district of Scheveningen.

Hartmann's arrest in front of international TV crews had triggered an outpouring of support, and more than 4,600 people signed a petition denouncing what it called her "violent" arrest.

The European Federation of Journalists had also called for her release, with general secretary Ricardo Gutierrez saying it was the role of the ICTY "to pursue war criminals not to intimidate those acting in the interest of civil society."

ICTY war crimes judges Thursday sentenced Karadzic to 40 years in jail for his role in Bosnia's 1992-95 war that killed some 100,000 people and left 2.2 million others homeless.

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