Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Judges Approve Withdrawal of Contempt Charges

(TU No 458, 23-Jun-06)
The witness in question has since been formally publicly identified by the court as the current Croatian president Stjepan Mesic. In 1998, he gave evidence behind closed doors in The Hague, in war crimes proceedings against the former Bosnian Croat commander Tihomir Blaskic.

In a submission filed on June 15, chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte argued that it would be “in the interest of justice and judicial economy” to withdraw the contempt of court proceedings against the three journalists, Stjepan Seselj, Domagoj Margetic and Marijan Krizic.

Justifying this surprise move, she cited “increasing pressure” from judges to limit the scope of cases and to exercise “greater prosecutorial restraint”.

She also argued that the “true colours and full criminality” of the behaviour of Seselj, Margetic and Krizic could only be shown if they stood trial alongside a fourth journalist, Josip Jovic, who faces related charges. Judges had already said this could not happen and that Jovic, whose crimes are said to have been committed four years earlier and at a different newspaper, would have to face separate proceedings.

The decision by the trial chamber to allow the charges against Seselj, Margetic and Krizic to be withdrawn was published on June 20. It included a separate written opinion from Judge Iain Bonomy, in which he agreed that it was within Del Ponte’s rights to withdraw the charges, but launched a scornful attack on her arguments for doing so.

Judge Bonomy said he completely rejected her first line of reasoning, relating to the recent pressure from judges to streamline cases. He said he understood this argument as referring to judges' concerns that some large, relatively unfocussed indictments are leading to long, difficult-to-manage trials, and are jeopardising efforts to complete the court's work within time limits laid down by the United Nations Security Council.

But in fact, he argued, withdrawing the indictments against Seselj, Margetic and Krizic would do little or nothing to address this situation. Courtroom time, judges and prosecution staff had already been set aside to deal with the charges against the three in early July, he said, and cancelling the case would not lead to these resources being used for any other purpose.

Concluding his written statement, he also called into question the prosecution’s position that the most serious case was that against Jovic, as the first to allegedly violate the tribunal’s rules in relation to Mesic’s testimony.

In light of this position, Judge Bonomy said, “It may be of some importance to explain in the course of the trial why he [Jovic] was not indicted until 2004 for conduct in 2000, and why indeed he was not indicted until several months after the indictment of Seselj and Margetic.”

Prosecution spokesperson Anton Nikiforov told a press conference that a full response to Judge Bonomy's comments would be provided in court.

The charges against Jovic stand and proceedings against him are due to go ahead on July 3.

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