Seselj Trial to Continue
The case against Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj is to continue once a replacement judge familiarises himself with it.
The Hague tribunal ruling ends several months of speculation about what would happen to the long-running trial.
Danish Judge Frederik Harhoff was disqualified from the Seselj case in late August, just a few months before the scheduled judgement, after a personal email he sent out was found to have “demonstrated bias”. The disqualification was upheld in October. (For more, see Decision To Disqualify Seselj Judge Upheld.)
Judge Mandiaye Niang from Senegal was subsequently appointed to replace Judge Harhoff.
In response, Seselj demanded that the case against him be thrown out, and asked for compensation of 12 million euro (16 million US dollars) to be awarded to him. He argued that Judge Niang “could not have read the trial transcript, and he will not be able to read all that even in a year”.
He added that his trial had dragged out so long that it amounted to “unbelievable torture”. (See Seselj Demands Dismissal of Trial.)
Seselj, who has been in detention since 2003, is charged with nine counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities carried out in an effort to expel non-Serbs from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993.
His trial was supposed to start in 2006, but was postponed for nearly a year after he went on hunger strike. When proceedings finally got under way in November 2007, they were delayed for long periods at a time.
Seselj, who represents himself in the courtroom, chose not to present a defence case. Closing arguments in his trial were held in March 2012.
The prosecution responded to Seselj’s demands by arguing that the trial should continue “at the deliberation stage” once Judge Niang had familiarised himself with the court record.
It said that given all the evidence already presented during the trial – including 97 witnesses and 1,399 exhibits – “the interests of justice demand a determination of whether or not the accused is guilty. This is unaffected by the recent finding of an appearance of bias on the part of one judge”.
The prosecution said there was a precedent for bringing in a replacement judge at a late stage of proceedings. In the case against the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, Judge Iain Bonomy replaced Judge Richard May after the close of the prosecution’s case, when the latter stepped down on health grounds.
In that instance, Judge Bonomy submitted a statement certifying that “he had familiarised himself with the existing record”.
The chamber – including newly-appointed Judge Niang – agreed with the prosecution, and said the case would enter the deliberation phase as soon as the judge familiarised himself with the proceedings.
Despite his absence from the entire trial, they ruled that he could assess witness testimony via video recordings and court transcripts.
Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.