Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The amendments filed by prosecutors relate to changes to details of the counts against him.
Seselj faces fourteen counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war for crimes including murder, deportations and torture.
He is accused of playing a key role in the Balkans wars of the early Nineties, including recruiting notorious volunteer units, making inflammatory speeches and helping to organise ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Croatia.
The decision to give Seselj the chance to enter a new plea was made at a status conference on September 26. During the same meeting, Presiding Judge Carmel Agius said a ruling was also to be expected “relatively soon” on moves to combine Seselj’s case with those of three other accused, Milan Martic, Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic.
Seselj took advantage of the court appearance to raise numerous complaints about his treatment. Besides objecting that he had been denied photocopying services in the tribunal detention unit, he also claimed he was owed money by the court registry to pay his “advisers”.
Seselj insists on mounting his own defence and has virulently attacked his court-assigned standby counsel. The tribunal in turn refuses to recognise the team of “experts” he has appointed to assist him.
In response to an earlier complaint, Judge Agius announced that he had recently received a report from experts hired to find out whether conditions in Seselj’s cell were exacerbating his hay fever.
Unfortunately, it appeared the investigation had been undertaken outside the peak pollen season and might have to be repeated at a later date. Seselj accused the registry of having purposely stalled the tests.
Much of the rest of the conference was taken up with discussing preparations for the start of Seselj’s trial.
In what the tribunal has described as “a landmark event”, the first indictee to be referred for trial in a national court left The Hague for Bosnia this week.
Radovan Stankovic will be tried at the newly formed War Crimes Chamber in Sarajevo. He is charged with four counts of crimes against humanity and four of violations of the laws or customs of war.
The indictment states that in 1992 he ran a house where detained Muslim women and girls as young as 12 were repeatedly raped by Serb soldiers. It also alleges that Stankovic, then 23, assigned women to be raped by other Serb soldiers as well as raping at least two women himself.
The indictment also says that many Muslims were arrested or killed during the Serb takeover of Foca in April 1992. In addition, it says that many Muslims were beaten, raped or sexually assaulted during the takeover.
Stankovic was arrested by a NATO stabilisation force near Foca in July 2002 and then transferred to The Hague.
It was almost exactly one year ago that the prosecutor first requested that Stankovic’s case be sent to the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Hercegovina. After an appeals process, a three-judge referral bench confirmed Stankovic’s case be moved to the specialist court in Sarajevo on September 1, 2005.
The transfer of this case is possible under the Tribunal’s Rule 11bis, which says that low-and mid-ranking indictees are eligible for transfer to national courts so long as the accused will be tried to the highest international standards.
The new Bosnian chamber will receive support from The Hague, along with all the evidence it has collected so far in the Stankovic case.
The tribunal is under pressure to finish all prosecution and appeals by its proposed completion date, which is the end of 2010.
Currently there are eight cases involving 15 accused awaiting a decision on potential transfer to national jurisdictions.
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