Book Review: Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity’s Worst Criminals and the Culture of Im


“Putting war criminals behind bars depends on the will of men and women, and especially men and women of the bar, to challenge the assumption that might means right, to shout yes when the chorus is singing no, to demand justice again and again, even when it means suffering ridicule for seeming quixotic” – Carla Del Ponte

Move over Atticus Finch, Harvey Specter and Martha Costello, here is a real-life lawyer who deserves some recognition and law student fawning. Carla Del Ponte, is without a doubt the toughest, most determined and awe-inspiring prosecutor of our time. Between 1999 and 2003 she was the chief prosecutor for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, responsible for ensuring that those responsible for the genocides were held accountable. Hardly an easy task.

Throughout her book, she recounts her journey from taking on the Sicilian Mafia when she was Switzerland’s attorney general, tightening Swiss laws to prevent money laundering, to being declared a persona non grata by the United States and ultimately ensuring that some form of justice was achieved for the victims of the atrocities in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

There aren’t really words to describe just how determined, focused and passionate Carla Del Ponte is about pursuing her goal of justice and ending impunity for international political leaders. Described as the ‘personification of stubbornness’ by the former Judge Giovanni Falcone, she certainly lived up to that description as chief prosecutor.

She overcame the humongous hurdles that States would throw at her; refusing to show her documentation, refusing to allow witnesses to appear and publicly sledging her. Despite losing colleagues, having her reputation and integrity attacked, having numerous threats made against her and living in a bombproof apartment, she never once wavered in her conviction.

If you are looking for a book that gives you hope that international law can be enforced, or that the law can be used to help people, or if you’re just looking for someone to be inspired by, then this book is for you. It provides a fascinating insight into the intricate politics of international relations, the problems that international law faces and the determination of a prosecutor to ensure that no country and no leader is beyond the reach of the law.

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