Ratko Mladic trial: the 'grey man' bringing Serb general to justice

Tact, diplomacy and a determination to serve the victims are the hallmarks of Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor of the ICTY

Described by allies as having the heart of a prosecutor and the tact of a diplomat, Serge Brammertz, the 49-year-old chief prosecutor of the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), has won praise for his determination in bringing Ratko Mladic to court.

An unmarried Belgian fluent in four languages and with a PhD in international law, Brammertz has kept a low profile during three and a half years in charge of bringing war criminals from the Balkan conflict to The Hague.

Some legal experts have complained that he is a rather grey figure, and indeed he ruffled few feathers when he made his statement this week on the prosecution of Mladic. It was characteristic of his diplomatic approach in a politically charged arena that after months of criticising Serbian authorities for failing to arrest the general he went out of his way to praise their efforts, quietly urging them to continue their work and arrest those who sheltered him.

Neither did he seek to steal their thunder. Despite working behind the scenes with his team for months to help secure Mladic's arrest, he kept his silence on it until 24 hours after the Serbs had announced the fugitive's capture.

"That's his style," said a colleague. "His priority is the judicial work in the courtroom."

His low-key approach is in marked contrast with his Swiss-born predecessor, Carla Del Ponte, who brought Slobodan Milosevic to trial and courted publicity and controversy in order to get results, often to great effect.

"In comparison to his predecessor, Brammertz has adopted a low profile," said Roger Sahota, a lawyer at the tribunal who represented Mladic's deputy, Zdravko Tolimir. "Del Ponte loved the limelight and made a point of delivering the opening prosecution address in person in many of the major trials under her watch. This normally infuriated the defence and the accused, and Brammertz did not follow her precedent in the case of Radovan Karadzic."

Born in Eupen in the German-speaking part of Belgium and educated at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve, the University of Liège and the Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg, Germany, Brammertz rose to become his country's head of federal prosecutions. He chased down organised crime rings and advised the European commission on the drugs trade and people trafficking. He became the deputy prosecutor of the international criminal court, where he was involved in cases of crimes committed in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Darfur.

He left after a difference of opinion over strategy with his boss, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, and became commissioner of the United Nations inquiry into the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon.

When Brammertz took up his position at the ICTY he was taken aback by the heavy security that surrounded him. On trips to Belgrade and Zagreb he ordered his team to negotiate with government hosts to minimise motor cavalcades.

"He thought it drew attention to him when it was not needed and he didn't want to appear as if he was the envoy of some kind of neo-colonial power," the colleague said.

Brammertz spoke this week of his biggest motivation in the case: the victims.

"When I got the information from Belgrade that it was most likely that the person arrested was General Mladic, I was immediately thinking about the victims' organisations in the region," he told Dutch radio.

"I met them more than 10 times, I went to Srebrenica last year, I went to Sarajevo again three weeks ago. Speaking with victims' organisations every time reminds us about the importance of our work."

The Mladic case may be one of the biggest the tribunal has taken on, but Brammertz's role is also to wind down its activities as it is due to close in 2014. This latest case means he may be in his post longer than that.

"The arrest finally of Mladic will be a very strong motivation for everybody to again put the remaining energy into this case to make sure that all together we serve justice once again," he said.


Robert Booth

The GuardianTramp

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