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Former Hague Spokeswoman's Conviction For Publishing Court Documents Criticized

Florence Hartmann, former spokeswoman for ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte

Florence Hartmann, former spokeswoman for ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte

BELGRADE -- Florence Hartmann, the former spokeswoman for the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), this week was sentenced for publishing "confidential" documents from the court.

The sentence was relatively light -- just 7,000 euros ($10,270) and no jail time. ICTY Judge Bakone Moloto, who on September 14 found Hartmann guilty on two charges of contempt, said that by violating the court's confidentiality rules, the Frenchwoman had put the credibility of The Hague tribunal at risk.

But Hartmann's supporters say the court is to blame for seeking to hide potential evidence linking Belgrade to war crimes in the Bosnian war.

Moloto suggested that the punishment could have been far worse, noting that the maximum penalty could have been seven years in prison and/or a fine of 100,000 euros.

Hartmann had worked as a journalist covering the Balkans in the 1980s and '90s. She left her job as the Belgrade correspondent for the French daily "Le Monde" to become the spokeswoman for The Hague tribunal, a job she held from 2000-06.

Did Hague Protect Belgrade?

During her time at The Hague court, Hartmann had access to documents that detailed the involvement of the Serbian government, particularly President Slobodan Milosevic, in the Bosnian war of the 1990s. After leaving, she published a book and a magazine article that included information culled from the court documents.

Most notably, she wrote that the court had decided privately not to disclose information potentially linking Belgrade to a number of war crimes in Bosnia, including the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.

A mass grave of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica -- did The Hague court hide evidence of Belgrade's involvement?
The court this week said Hartmann had "knowingly and willingly interfered with the administration of justice" in publishing information from court documents, and could potentially hurt further ICTY trials.

Before the verdict was delivered, Hartmann herself argued that much of the information in her book, "Peace and Punishment," was publicly available from other sources even before the book was published.

"The verdict is not related to my case only, but to fundamental principles regarding journalism and freedom of speech," she said.

The defense also asked the court to consider as a mitigating circumstance the fact that the book had sold relatively poorly. Still, Hartmann's attorney, Guenael Mettraux, told RFE/RL he was "disappointed" by the verdict and said it would have a dampening effect on future court proceedings.

"We are very disappointed by the verdict -- actually, by the fact that the court didn't accept the arguments and evidence which we presented. At the moment we're thinking about whether we should appeal the court council's verdict -- and probably we will do so," Mettraux said.

Questions Of Transparency

In her writing, Hartmann alleged that ICTY judges concealed key documents about involvement by Serbian and former Yugoslav Republic officials in the Srebrenica massacre. She said that decision enabled the court to stop short of holding Belgrade directly responsible for the killing.

The ICTY, in its February 2006 ruling, found the former Yugoslav officials responsible for failing to prevent the massacre, but did not find them guilty on genocide charges.

The ruling has angered Hartmann's supporters, who say that the court is sending the wrong message to participating states by suggesting it will turn a blind eye to incriminating evidence.

"The judge made a decision to conceal from the public data from the state which organized numerous horrifying crimes and which asked that this data be classified as secret," says Natasa Kandic, a Belgrade-based activist who heads the Humanitarian Law Center, which documents war crimes.

"This is an encouragement for states to conceal and keep secret very important information which would contribute to establishing the truth and the responsibility of the institutions."

Serbian officials tasked with liaising with The Hague court declined to speak to RFE/RL. But in Bosnia, Smail Cekic of the Sarajevo-based Institute for Research of Crimes Against Humanity and International Law said Hartmann's verdict was a painful blow for investigators and genocide victims.

"All genocide victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina expect and ask the appeals court to lift all charges against Florence Hartmann," Cekic said.

"With this verdict, the court has jeopardized its integrity, and once again took the stance that it will protect the integrity of some states -- in this case Serbia -- in order to conceal the truth about what happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

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