Seselj Calls for Trial to Resume

War crimes suspect says witness intimidation allegations no longer an obstacle.

Seselj Calls for Trial to Resume

War crimes suspect says witness intimidation allegations no longer an obstacle.

Monday, 24 August, 2009
A Serbian nationalist politician who represents himself in his war crimes trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, has asked judges to resume the proceedings against him.

Vojislav Seselj was his usual boisterous self at a court meeting this week following the tribunal’s three-week summer recess as he dismissed the prosecution’s case against him and requested that judges allow his trial to continue.

“I, formally, orally demand that the trial chamber reconsider [its] decision to suspend proceedings,” Seselj told presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti on August 18.

Seselj, who leads the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, in Belgrade, has been on trial since November 2007 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed as part of a bid to create an expanded Serbia during the 1990s. However, the case against him was suspended on February 11 this year after prosecutors alleged that Seselj had intimidated witnesses.

He faces charges of murder, torture and persecution as he allegedly sought to drive out non-Serbs from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993.

Since the trial’s suspension, Seselj has faced separate charges of contempt of court and on July 24 he was convicted of revealing the names and details of three protected witnesses appearing in his war crimes case in a book he had published from his prison cell. A separate panel of judges at the United Nations court sentenced him to 15 months in prison for purposely defying an order given by the judges in the war crimes case.

Seselj has denied the allegations that he and his legal associates in Serbia intimidated witnesses.

Arguing for the resumption of the main war crimes case this week, Seselj pointed out that in their decision to convict him of contempt, the judges had not concluded that he had intimidated witnesses nor that he had published the book with the intention of doing so.

“It is not stated anywhere in the judgement that I intimidated witnesses or I intended to intimidate witnesses,” he told judges, referring to the contempt ruling, and claiming there was now no reason to continue the suspension of the war crimes proceedings.

He said that if he is not to be prosecuted further in relation to allegations that he intimidated witnesses, then the war crimes trial should be allowed to proceed.

“Your decision [to suspend the trial] has been left hanging in the air because another proceeding for contempt of court [in which allegations of intimidation might be proven] has not been conducted at all,” Seselj added later.

According to the defendant, the decision to suspend the trial was based on statements of a protected prosecution witness, but Seselj said neither he nor his associates in Serbia had intimidated this witness.

“My associate got in touch with him,” Seselj said. “The meeting between members of my defence and a protected prosecution witness is not something that is forbidden.”

“This witness stated that none of my associates threatened him, that they were very polite,” he added.

He told judges this week that the allegations of intimidation stemmed from the “false statement” of a witness who testified in his trial and who himself had sought to blackmail the prosecution by asking to be relocated to another country in return for testifying at the tribunal.

Seselj said that the prosecution acknowledged that the witness had also falsely claimed to have worked in the Serbian security services and the Serbian police and that prosecutors had given him two documents demonstrating this.

The prosecution did not respond to these comments from the accused in court this week.

Seselj also argued as he has done before that further delaying the war crimes proceedings put his rights as a defendant under threat. He has been held in The Hague since he surrendered to the court in February 2003.

“It is high time to draw these proceedings to a close. I have been here seven years. There is not a court in the United States or anywhere that would not acquit me just because I have been here seven years,” he said.

“I invite you to make a new decision [about suspending the trial]. Otherwise, you are going to make these whole proceedings futile. You are going to continue to violate my fundamental right to a fair trial and fundamental right to a trial within a reasonable period of time,” he said.

Judge Antonetti invited the prosecution to file a written response to Seselj’s request for proceedings to continue. It will have ten days to do so.

“If the chamber took a decision to postpone [the trial] there was a reason, so it wasn’t done just like that,” Judge Antonetti told the defendant. “I cannot say more.”

Seselj also used the courtroom meeting to insist on his innocence of the crimes with which he is charged.

“There is not a single piece of evidence that can link me to a single war crime, not a shred of evidence,” he said.

Seselj also confirmed that he would invoke a court rule that entitles him, once the prosecution has rested its case, to challenge its case and ask judges to acquit him of charges on which he deems prosecutors have failed to present enough evidence.

“I am already getting ready for when the time comes to state my position ... to state why I consider that the prosecution failed to prove any of the items in the indictment,” he said.

The prosecution intends to present evidence from a further 11 witnesses before resting its case.

Judge Antonetti said the parties would likely meet again in October.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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