Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Vojislav Seselj in the ICTY courtroom last year. (Photo: ICTY)
Judges at the Hague tribunal this week approved the provisional release of Bosnian Serb politician Vojislav Seselj on humanitarian grounds as he awaits the verdict in his war crimes trial.
The 60-year-old Seselj, who has been in detention in The Hague since 2003, had surgery for colon cancer last year, but a medical team from Serbia recently confirmed that it had spread to his liver.
The trial chamber said he could be released to have medical treatment in Belgrade, adding that they were satisfied he would not interfere with victims or witnesses and would return to The Hague if summoned.
Judges said that “to avoid the worst-case scenario”, the politician should be able “to receive treatment in the most suitable environment”.
Earlier this year, the chamber offered Seselj the opportunity to await his verdict in Serbia. However, the defendant turned down this offer, insisting he would not agree to remain under house arrest or and refrain from political activity.
Seselj, who is still the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, has pleaded not guilty to all 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, originally supposed to start in 2006, was postponed for nearly a year after he went on hunger strike. Long delays have marked proceedings since it finally got under way in November 2007.
Closing arguments in his trial were held in March 2012, but last year, he asked the bench to throw out his case after one judge, Frederik Harhoff, was disqualified for “demonstrating bias” in a personal email he sent out to numerous contacts. Seselj also demanded that the tribunal award him 12 million euro in compensation.
In December 2013, the chamber dismissed both requests and decided that the case would continue once a replacement judge had familarised himself with the lengthy court record.
While in The Hague, Seselj has been tried and convicted of contempt of court three times for revealing the personal details of protected witnesses.
Daniella Peled is an IWPR editor in London.
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