Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Vojislav Seselj in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
At a status conference this week, Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj railed against the judges hearing his case and claimed they were “mocking him”.
Discussing Seselj’s recent hospitalisation and other matters relating to his health, presiding Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti mentioned that last summer, a court-appointed panel of doctors recommended that the accused lose weight.
“I know that you, Mr Antonetti, like to mock this diet I purportedly need. You can do that for as long as you want,” Seselj exclaimed. “I do not trust you and I am not going to allow any further manipulations. You started it right with your advice that I should go on a diet. I have very strong blood vessels. Let us see whose blood vessels are better—mine or yours! There is no reason for me to play along with you—you want to mock me in public!”
Judge Antonetti responded that “the chamber had no intention of mocking you when we appointed experts”, and that the bench did not know what the doctors would say until they delivered the report.
The judge said the bench was ready to appoint another panel of doctors to reassess the situation, but that the accused would not allow “any information whatsoever” to be provided to the trial chamber.
Since his surrender to the tribunal in 2003, Seselj has insisted on representing himself and has vowed on numerous occasions to “destroy” the Hague tribunal. Recently, he filed a lengthy motion claiming that the tribunal owes him two million euro in “damages.”
Seselj is charged with nine counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity – including murder, torture and forcible transfer – for atrocities carried out in an effort to expel the non-Serb population from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993. He remains leader of the Serbian Radical Party in Belgrade.
Seselj’s criminal trial has endured repeated delays since it officially began in November 2007, a full year after the original trial date was postponed due to the accused’s hunger strike.
Closing arguments are slated for March, since Seselj has declined to present a defence case.
During this week’s hearing, Seselj also claimed that when he was taken to hospital on January 6, he “nearly died”.
On that day, Seselj said, he fell and hit his head, he was “covered in blood”, and the steel bars on a window had to be cut in order for him to be carried to the ambulance.
He also claimed that the court’s announcement that he had had a pacemaker implanted was a “lie”. Instead, he said, doctors fitted with him an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, or ICD, which he said would prevent “sudden death”.
As for the conclusion of his trial, Seselj said he had filed a 500-page closing brief – more than twice the permissible limit – because the prosecution had been granted additional pages.
“You say that my final brief should not exceed 200 pages. I could not believe my eyes,” Seselj said. “The masks have fallen. I know who you are and what your mission is, and I know who I am and what my mission is. Read it, throw it in the waste-paper basket – I’m no longer interested in the final brief.”
Judge Antonetti reminded the accused that the prosecution had made a formal request to submit a longer final brief, and that if he had made a similar request, it would have been granted.
“Under the principle of ‘equality of arms’, it was out of the question that you would have fewer pages than the prosecution,” the judge said.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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