On October 20, 2014, the Swiss lawyer Carla Del Ponte received a Freedom Award from Freie Universität Berlin. By the 1980s, as a public prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte already became known for her resolute and uncompromising commitment against crime.
Beginning in 1994, as a federal prosecutor for the Swiss Confederation, Carla Del Ponte continued her fight against money laundering, arms trafficking, corruption, and organized crime. In 1999, upon recommendation by the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, the UN Security Council appointed her Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslawia (1999-2007) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (1999-2003) in The Hague.
During her eight years in office, of the 161 individuals that the war crimes tribunal had indicted since being founded in 1993, 91 had been arrested or voluntarily surrounded to the authorities. Of this number, 63 individuals – including military commanders, soldiers, and local politicians – were sentenced by the court to imprisonment. The extradition of the deposed dictator Slobodan Milošević to the tribunal in 2001 caused a great international sensation. Milošević, however, died in detention after four years of trial, without having been sentenced for his crimes.
Del Ponte persistently pointed out that justice for the victims is only possible by means of extensive international and national efforts. When she left The Hague in 2007, she strongly urged the EU to make the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia dependent on the arrest and extradition of war criminals Mladić and Karadžić.
Although there were numerous attempts to block her investigations, Del Ponte was never deterred. With her courageous and persistent advocacy for punishing crimes against humanity, she helped make the victims’ voices be heard. Furthermore, she rendered outstanding services to justice and the establishment of an international legal system.
Since September 2012 Carla Del Ponte has been continuing her tireless work as a member of the independent UN Syria Commission and has been investigating human rights violations and war crimes in the Syrian civil war.
Through the special circumstances of its history, in particular, but also through its current work, Freie Universität Berlin represents the concept of political and academic freedom as perhaps no other institution in Germany. Since being founded in 1948, the university has felt itself bound to follow this tradition.
During times of increasing globalization, the concept of freedom must repeatedly be re-examined, and standing up for freedom must be supported. Freie Universität meets these criteria on the one hand through its international networks, on the other through the academic discourse on the conditions of freedom carried out by the Center for Area Studies, an institution that assembles the high standard of regional competency across the various humanities and social sciences at Freie Universität.
Following up on an initiative taken by this center, Freie Universität introduced a new international Freedom Award, conferred for the first time in 2007. The award is presented to persons who served freedom in a political, social, or academic context. The Freedom Award is the first international award honoring advocates of one of the most important values worldwide and thus complements a canon of prestigious awards.