On Thursday, March 24, the day when the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted Radovan Karadzic, former political leader of Bosnian Serbs, to 40 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity, journalist Florence Hartmann, who was alongside associations of victims of the Bosnian war, was brutally arrested by the court guards, and was admitted into the war criminals’ detention unit to execute a 7 days jail -sentence.
The coincidence of these two facts casts a terrible shadow on a day that should have been marked as the triumph of justice. This is a senseless and sickening event for anyone in the world, defending freedom of information and more generally human rights.
Florence Hartmann was the spokesperson of the ICTY Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte from 2000 to 2006, before being prosecuted as a journalist by her former colleagues, now both judge and party, for contempt of court. The motive: in her book Peace and Punishment (Flammarion, 2007) she revealed the terms of a secret negotiation between the tribunal and Serbia in the trial of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. In this negotiation, the Tribunal agreed not to disclose some evidence of continuing and decisive involvement of the Serbian state in the Bosnia and Herzegovina war.
Let us emphasize strongly that these elements were already known to authorized areas, and that at the moment when she wrote Florence Hartmann was not in the employment of the ICTY anymore, but had resumed her profession as a freelance journalist. She never stole documents or had unethical behavior, as has too often been heard here and there. Her only credo is that the public has the right to the truth, and it is the duty of journalists to inform. That’s why she said it was crucial to publish this information.
Her support committee raised the 7,000 euros fine in two weeks and deposited it into an account that the Tribunal refused to withdraw. Her sentence was upheld on appeal in 2011, and definitively commuted to seven days in prison. The fact that the trial has been linked to the Milosevic case was in itself an outrage and absurdity. The fact that she now finds herself detained in the same detention unit as war criminals she relentlessly fought by her bravery, her unwavering commitment and writings, we considered it outright perversion of an institution that we ourselves helped to create in 1993.
We continue to believe that the establishment of the ICTY was a huge step forward in the still young history of international criminal law. It is indeed its existence which led to the arrest of the chief mastermind of this war, Slobodan Milosevic, 5 years after the end of fighting, and opened the way for the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) where it is not impossible to imagine that one day a Bashar Assad could end up in the dock.
The very conditions of the arrest of Florence Hartmann, a rare violence, evoking an ambush, while the associations of victims tried to resist the onslaught of the Court guards, marred forever the memory of this day . A week in prison is of little consequence, some will say. But what is Florence Hartmann doing in the neighborhood of war criminals, not far from Radovan Karadzic convicted of genocide? Why is she placed in isolation, lights on with round the clock surveillance, with guards opening the window every 15 minutes, without communication with the outside world?
Like Carla del Ponte, we demand her immediate release, and more, we demand her rehabilitation. Today she is prevented from working in international organizations and in the media because of this heinous sentence; only a total rehabilitation will allow her to resume her professional and personal life, in abeyance and drastically affected by this injustice.
RELEASE AND REHABILITATE FLORENCE HARTMANN NOW!