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

New Date for Seselj Trial

Judges granted Seselj more time to prepare his defence.
By Merdijana Sadović
Judges hearing the case of ultranationalist Serb leader Vojislav Seselj this week set a new date for the start of his trial.



The proceedings should begin on November 27 with the prosecution opening statement; the defendant is expected to deliver his the day after.



Seselj’s trial was originally scheduled to begin on November 2, but was postponed after the appeals chamber decided to grant him the right to defend himself in court after all.



Deliberations over whether Seselj should be allowed to conduct his own defence had cost him almost two months of preparation time, so the judges agreed he should be given a few more weeks to make up for the lost time.



When at this week’s status conference Presiding Judge Alphons Orie asked Seselj whether he would like to deliver his opening statement at the beginning of the trial, or at the beginning of the defence case – should there still be need for that - the defendant, known for his vitriolic outbursts in court, responded angrily.



“What do you mean if there is still need for that? I hope I won’t die before this case is over!” he exclaimed.



Judge Orie then warned Seselj that his remark “was inappropriate” and said he meant that if all charges are dropped at the end of the prosecution case – which can happen if the judges are not satisfied the evidence is strong enough to proceed with the trial – then there might not be any need for the defence case at all.



“I’m sorry, but the first thought that came to my mind was that you suggested I might die in the middle of the proceedings”, said Seselj. “Therefore, I want to withdraw this remark.”



This was one of Seselj’s many allusions to the late Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who died of a heart attack in the tribunal’s detention centre in March this year, before his trial was over.



Also this week, the judges ordered prosecutors to drop five charges against Seselj and reduce the scope of their evidence against him to speed up his case.



Seselj faces charges of persecution, extermination, murder and torture of non-Serbs in wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.



The charges dropped on November 8 were described as "crimes against humanity", and, according to the judges, they duplicate other parallel charges classified as "war crimes" that remain in the indictment.



The judges also told prosecutors not to use evidence related to the crimes allegedly committed in Croatia's Western Slavonia region and the Bosnian towns of Brcko, Bosanski Samac and Bijeljina.



They said that dropping these charges shouldn't really affect the prosecution's case because they have evidence from other towns to support their arguments.



The next status conference in Seselj’s case is expected on November 22.



Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague project manager.