Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj told judges this week that he expected the Hague tribunal to “crumble like a tower made of cards” as a result of Wikileaks’ revelations.
Claiming that some of the 250,000 diplomatic cables revealed this week by Wikileaks pertain to the Hague tribunal, he said, “I’m sure there will be a significant number of documents that will give direct testament to the ways in which the American government interfered with this tribunal.
“It’s possible that this tribunal will crumble like tower made of cards…that is in God’s hands.”
Presiding Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti responded that he had searched the Wikileaks website and “failed to find” the documents Seselj mentioned. “You could not have found anything because Wikileaks is besieged by US intelligence hackers,” Seselj responded. He said this information would reach the public “gradually” and had already been reported by some Serbian newspapers.
“I am personally not aware of this,” Judge Antonetti replied.
The administrative hearing was held this week to deal with outstanding issues in the trial, which has endured numerous 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.
Arrested in 2003, 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, SRS, based in Belgrade.
He also faces parallel contempt proceedings for allegedly revealing details about protected witnesses in a book he authored. He was already convicted on similar charges in July 2009 and sentenced to 15 months in prison.
One of the main issues discussed this week was the so-called Mladic diaries, over 3,000 pages of wartime notes said to have been written by the former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic, who remains wanted by the tribunal. The diaries were seized from the Belgrade apartment of Mladic’s wife last February, and prosecutors in several cases have moved to add them as evidence.
The judges in the Seselj trial, however, appointed a panel of handwriting experts to determine the authenticity of the notebooks. Seselj complained this week that this was delaying the proceedings even further, especially since the experts were recently granted more time to file their report.
“My name is never mentioned in the diaries,” Seselj said. “We have been wasting six months on whether this should be included in this trial or not.”
He added that “no one will ever catch [Mladic] because the soul of the Serbian people is protecting him”.
Judge Antonetti noted that if the parties wanted to speed up the trial, then the prosecution could simply withdraw its motion to add the Mladic diaries to their case.
“Then there are no more problems,” the judge said.
Prosecuting lawyer Mathias Marcussen took issue with this suggestion.
“[It has been] implied that the prosecution is filing motions and somehow obstructing the case,” he said. “It is the trial chamber and not the prosecution who have designated the handwriting expert.”
Seselj’s health was also discussed. In October, the judges appointed a panel of medical experts to determine whether Seselj was fit to stand trial. His health problems include a heart arrhythmia for which he recently underwent a procedure.
Seselj said that the court registry “lied” to judges when it submitted a report stating there were no complications during the procedure.
“The doctors in Belgrade said a loss of consciousness constitutes a complication,” Seselj contended. He did, however, admit that he feels better since the surgery.
The judges also addressed Seselj’s claims that he had been poisoned. They said a recent blood test of some 2,000 substances revealed nothing except traces of prescribed medication.
“There has been no poisoning,” Judge Antonetti said.
Seselj, however, said those tests were conducted over a year after the symptoms disappeared. He also denied that any of his health problems were the result of his weight.
“I’m not fat and bear my weight with pride,” Seselj said. “Perhaps I do have slightly more pounds than is somebody’s taste but that’s none of anybody’s business and it’s not the cause of my illness.”
Judge Antonetti said the chamber will rule on all outstanding motions by the court’s winter recess. After that – in February or March - there will be a hearing where Seselj can argue that the prosecution failed to prove its case. This hearing typically takes place between the prosecution and defence phases of a trial.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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