People - 29.08.2019 - 00:00 

Carla Del Ponte wins award for her uncompromising pursuit of war criminals

Carla del Ponte was recently awarded the Erich Walser Generation Prize at the University of St.Gallen. The Ticino-born lawyer received the prize in recognition of her services as chief prosecutor for war crimes committed in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Award Ceremony

29 August 2019. When Carla Del Ponte stepped up to the microphone last Tuesday evening in the large auditorium of the University of St.Gallen, it immediately became clear that the 72-year-old has lost none of her acumen or quick-wittedness. Del Ponte captivated the audience at the award ceremony with a defiant speech on the state of human rights. She began by acknowledging the award of the Erich Walser Generation Prize, which she received at the end of the 11th World Demographic & Ageing Forum (WDA). She continued: “I am very happy about the prize money of 20,000 francs. Much support is still needed in Syrian refugee camps.” The fact that Del Ponte —  as widely renowned as ever for her implementation of international humanitarian law — received the prize was in keeping with the guiding theme of WDA 2019, which focused on the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Convention and its intersection with demographic developments. As the WDA organisers observed in their invitation, the forum aimed to highlight respect for international law and thus for a peaceful world for future generations.

Federal Councillor Cassis: “She likes straight talk”

In her 20-minute speech, Del Ponte proved what Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis had said about her in his introductory laudation: “Carla Del Ponte likes straight and honest talk.” Del Ponte, a retired lawyer, said she was frustrated by the state of the world. “There are more and more wars and crimes against humanity, yet the UN is virtually incapable of acting and does nothing about this malaise.” Apparently, her work as chief prosecutor of the international criminal tribunals for war crimes in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda has had little deterrent effect. During her time as prosecutor from 1999 to 2007, Del Ponte brought 161 persons responsible for war crimes and genocides before the international court in The Hague, Holland. “And when you stand at a mass grave together with relatives of the victims, you begin to understand how important this justice is for people.” The Ticino-born lawyer, who delivered her address in almost perfect German, repeatedly interspersed her observations with moving and exciting anecdotes from her career.

The internationally most renowned Swiss woman

Ignazio Cassis: “Justice is truth and without truth there is no peace.” Carla Del Ponte has dedicated her entire professional life to the search for truth, based on data and facts. Cassis recalled how in 1981, in his and her home canton of Ticino, Del Ponte took up an uncompromising fight against organised cross-border crime as a public prosecutor. In 1994 she was appointed Federal Prosecutor, and in 1999 she was appointed to The Hague. The arrests of the Bosnian Serb war criminals Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić were largely the result of her tireless work, said Cassis. “This made Carla Del Ponte the most internationally known Swiss personality, at least after Roger Federer.” However, Cassis jokingly added that the hunt for war criminals requires more persistence than three sets of tennis.

68-year-old conductor inspires young musicians

In addition ot Cassis, former Federal Councillors Adolf Ogi and Hans Rudolf Merz had also come to St.Gallen to honour Del Ponte. Ogi received the Erich Walser Generation Prize three years ago. Endowed by the Helvetia Group, the prize is awarded to individuals who have worked internationally to foster intergenerational dialogue (see below).

The award ceremony was musically framed by the big band “Dai Kimoto & his Swing Kids.” The 13 musicians, playing different brass instruments, electric bass and drums and directed by Japanese jazz musician and bandleader Dai Kimoto, received the regional WDA award. The prize is endowed with 3,000 Swiss francs in honour of exceptional achievements towards promoting intergenerational understanding in Eastern Switzerland. Sixty-eight-year-old Dai Kimoto had kindled cross-generational enthusiasm among the young musicians aged 9 to 19, so the laudation. The Swing Kids perform concerts across the world and also demonstrated their class on their domestic, Eastern Swiss stage at the University of St.Gallen. The WDA award ceremony was repeatedly loosened up with swing classics such as Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing.” Federal Councillor Cassis visibly enjoyed the young musicians: “My heartiest congratulations — I also played the trumpet as a teenager.”

An international award of merit

The Erich Walser Generation Prize has been awarded since 2005 in memory of Erich Walser, founding member of the WDA Forum and former Chairman of the Board of Directors of Helvetia Holding AG. The prize, worth CHF 20,000, is endowed by the Helvetia Group. It has been awarded every three years since 2005 by the WDA Forum together with the University of St.Gallen. The award honours individuals who have set an international example in promoting intergenerational understanding. Previous laureates include former Federal Councillor Adolf Ogi, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Text: Urs-Peter Zwingli

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