Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Serb ultra-nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj failed to enter a plea to an amended indictment against him this week.
But his request for more time - because he had only just received the document - came only after he had forced court officials to read the indictment in full, out loud, including all the annexes, containing names of more than 570 alleged victims.
Seselj has become well-known for his theatrical antics in the courtroom.
The original indictment included eight counts of crimes against humanity and six of violations of the laws or customs of war.
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 new version does not add any new charges per se, but includes new factual allegations.
The majority of changes are to the dates covered by the fourteen counts. The original indictment referred to events up to September 1992, while the amended version adds a full year, taking the charges up to September 1993.
One very important amendment, noted by Judge Carmel Agius in court, redefines the term “committed”, as used in the indictment, to mean that Seselj should also be held responsible for the campaign of attacks that resulted from his speeches.
In the original indictment, Seselj was accused of “inflammatory speech” but the latest version alleges that he bears personal responsibility for the “natural and foreseeable consequences” of his speeches, some of which he made as president of the Serbian Radical Party.
During a hearing last month a judge 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.
At this week’s hearing, Seselj insisted that the amended indictment “be read out in full, in the Serbian language”.
“You’re not going to tell us in which language we read the indictment,” responded Judge Agius. Then he informed Seselj he could follow in a translation of his own language.
“Mr Agius,” Seselj replied. “It was not my intention to teach you the rules.” He then went on to cite one of the tribunal rules stipulating that the accused can follow court proceedings in their own language, and once again demanded that the indictment be read in Serbian.
Just before the court official began reading the indictment, the judge told him, “I will be following you in English, while the accused will be following you in Serbian, while you read it in French.”
After the entire document was read, Seselj said, “Since I was just given the amended indictment today I have not been able to consult with my legal advisors and so I cannot enter a plea.”
Seselj graduated from Sarajevo University Faculty of Law and, although he never practiced law, he has been conducting his own defence.
In May 2003, Seselj was denied his application to defend himself. A court appointed counsel resigned in 2004, citing Seselj’s verbal abuse. In February the same year, the court appointed another stand-by counsel - Tjarda Eduard van der Spoel - whom Seselj has continued to attack verbally.
This week, Seselj again told the court he has “definitely decided” to represent himself.
The tribunal has refused to recognise Seselj’s own list of “legal advisers”, two of whom, Tomislav Nikolic and Dragan Todorovic, are due to visit him on next week.
Seselj said he would be prepared to enter a plea after October 17, once he’s consulted with them.
If Seselj does not enter a plea within the next 30 days, Judge Agius said he would enter a plea of not guilty on Seselj’s behalf.
In 2003, Seselj also took the full 30 days available to enter a plea to the original indictment.
Adrienne N Kitchen is an IWPR intern in The Hague.
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