The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) released French journalist Florence Hartmann from its prison in The Hague on Tuesday.
The journalist had spent five days in the prison, which is normally reserved for war crimes suspects and convicts.
Last Thursday, Ms. Hartmann was unexpectedly arrested by security officials of the Tribunal outside the court gates while she was talking with victims from the Bosnian war. Ms. Hartmann had come to The Hague to hear the verdict against Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader.
Ms. Hartmann was told that she had to serve a seven-day sentence because she had not paid a fine in a court judgment against her. Former press officer of the Tribunal, she was convicted of contempt of court in 2009 for having revealed in a book how tribunal judges had issued confidential decisions ruling that parts of the records provided by Serbia could be used in closed sessions of the court but had to be kept out of the public eye.
Ms. Hartmann had argued that victims had a right to know about the confidential agreement made between tribunal judges and Serbia.
After her release on Tuesday, Ms. Hartmann said what had angered the judges most was that she wrote that they had acted “unlawfully” and had therefore made their decisions confidential.
On Tuesday afternoon, the court freed Ms. Hartmann after her lawyer, Guénaël Mettraux, filed a motion for her release because she had served two-thirds of her sentence. Continue reading
by William A. Schabas*
Alongside yesterday’s very important judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was a rather more pathetic manifestation of the fight against impunity. While the judgment was being issued, Security officials of the Tribunal, with the apparent assistance of the Dutch police, arrested French journalist Florence Hartmann. She is now in detention at the Tribunal’s prison. For a photo of her arrest, look here.
Florence Hartmann served as press officer at the Tribunal about a decade ago, When she left, she published a memoir entitled Paix et châtiment. The book referred to decisions of the Tribunal’s Appeals Chamber that were supposed to have remained confidential. After being tried and convicted of contempt of court, she was sentenced to pay a €7,000 fine. When she failed to pay the fine, the Tribunal converted the sentence into one of seven days’ imprisonment. She now has six more days to go, that is, unless the Tribunal applies its policy of early release after service of two-thirds of the sentence.
All of the international tribunals have wasted a lot of resources on prosecuting so-called ‘offences against the administration of justice’. The time and money these matters have consumed could have been usefully devoted to more serious cases involving genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In the early 1990s, the International Law Commission conceived of an international court that would not concern itself with issues like contempt of court, perjury and tampering with witnesses, leaving thus to the national courts. If Florence Hartmann, or the others, really committed an offence against the administration of justice, it would make a lot more sense for them to be dealt with by domestic justice systems. Continue reading