France refuses to arrest journalist sought by tribunal for former Yugoslavia

December 26, 2011

France refused Monday to carry out an arrest mandate from the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal against a French journalist convicted of contempt for revealing confidential information about the tribunal’s work.

The nation’s chief Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero, said France’s accords with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia require it to carry out mandates against those accused of “serious crimes” but not offenses against the court itself, such as Florence Hartmann’s contempt conviction.

“Since the contempt of court of which Ms. Hartmann was convicted is not one of those crimes, France has no legal basis for such cooperation,” Valero said at a ministry briefing.

France’s insistence that it would cooperate only for “the serious crimes that the tribunal has as its mission to judge” was seen as indirect criticism of the body in The Hague. The war crimes tribunal was founded 18 years ago but has not finished its task of prosecuting those accused of atrocities during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia. Several supporters of the ­U.N.-affiliated court have said that, because it is so far behind schedule, the court has better things to do than prosecute a journalist for revealing sensitive information.

Hartmann, a French national, covered the Bosnian war in the 1990s. After working as a spokeswoman for the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia from 2000 to 2006, she published a book in 2007 that contained information on Serbia’s involvement in the horrors of the Bosnian conflict.


France will not arrest Florence Hartmann, a French journalist, to face a jail term for revealing confidential information, the foreign ministry said. (Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images)

A special panel of the tribunal convicted her in September 2009 of contempt of court and ordered her to pay a $10,000 fine. She appealed and declined to pay. Last month, an appeals panel upheld the conviction and converted the fine into a seven-day prison term, calling on the French government to arrest her and turn her over in The Hague.

Hartmann, speaking by telephone in France, said she was gratified by the French government’s decision but disappointed to see it justified on such legal grounds.

The real issues, she said, are her freedom of speech and the legitimacy of a court that, feeling offended, decides to judge the question of contempt.

“It is nice to see France take this position, but it is not the same as the question of the absurdity of the original judgment,” Hartmann said. “I still cannot travel or work. If I go to another country, they might feel their agreement with the tribunal obliges them to arrest me.”

There was no immediate response from the tribunal.

In the original ruling, the panel’s presiding judge, Bakone Justice Moloto of South Africa, said the Yugoslavia tribunal has an “inherent jurisdiction” to prosecute anybody who interferes with its work. Hartmann did so, the panel found, because revealing the sensitive information provided by Serbia “may deter sovereign states from cooperating with the tribunal where the provision of evidential material is concerned.”

Hartmann’s book explained a secret court ruling that allowed the Serbian government to prevent confidential documents provided to the court — showing Serbia’s involvement in the Bosnian war — from being made public. The documents, according to Hartmann, detailed then-President Slobodan Milosevic’s military support of Bosnian Serb forces and his links to wartime atrocities that those forces committed, including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

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