Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Judges at the Hague tribunal announced this week that they would not impose counsel on defendant Vojislav Seselj, the former president of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, who is representing himself.
Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said that the trial chamber rejected the motion by the Office of the Prosecution, OTP, requesting Seselj seek additional legal representation.
“You will keep defending yourself without any counsel,” Judge Antonetti told Seselj, adding that the reasons for the chamber’s order would be conveyed in writing in the coming weeks.
Seselj is accused of responsibility for crimes committed against Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb populations in regions throughout Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia between 1991 and 1993.
According to the indictment, Seselj was part of a joint criminal enterprise that planned, ordered, committed or aided in the planning of persecutions of non-Serb civilian populations in order to create a Serb-dominated state.
Seselj made inflammatory speeches in the media, the indictment says, and encouraged the creation of a homogenous “Greater Serbia” by violence, thereby participating in war propaganda and the incitement of hatred towards non-Serb people.
Seselj was indicted on February 14, 2003. The trial commenced on November 27, 2006, but without Seselj who had been on a hunger strike since November 10 and refused to appear in court. The trial recommenced on November 7, 2007.
The trial chamber issued a majority decision on February 11, 2009 that granted a motion by the OTP to adjourn the proceedings after prosecutors alleged that he had intimidated their witnesses.
Judge Antonetti said that the trial chamber’s current decision on the OTP’s request will meet the prosecution’s expressed concerns with regard to protecting witnesses, while still recognising Seselj’s right to self-representation.
In July, Seselj was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for contempt of court after he was accused of disclosing the names and personal details of three protected witnesses in a book that he authored.
The OTP told the judges that they would consider whether to appeal the chamber’s decision on requirement to self-representation.
Seselj told the court that the judges’ decision is “the only proper one”.
“I hope your decision means we will be able to continue proceedings and hear the remaining witnesses,” Seselj said.
Seselj then made an oral motion to dismiss the indictment against him, due to the violation of his rights as the accused. Seselj rejected the indictment, saying that it was based on his alleged conduct.
“Nobody can be convicted for conduct, only for committing a crime,” Seselj said.
Seselj told the judges that he believed the OTP had abused the doctrine of due process. He said that he had been in tribunal custody for seven years, and that his trial had not been “completed within a reasonable amount of time”.
Seselj argued that his rights had been violated systematically since 2003 due to the continued delay of the trial, and claimed that the OTP's attempts to impose counsel was a last chance effort to further delay the proceedings. He then added that the OTP had delayed and abused the court by bartering with witnesses and offering them bribes to offer false testimony.
Seselj cited a ruling in 1993 by the British House of Lords that decreed a court has a right to stop any criminal proceedings as well as abolish an indictment when it was found to be in violation of the rights of the accused.
“I think the proceedings here brought into question the integrity of the tribunal,” Seselj said, “if the Hague tribunal had any dignity to begin with.”
Seselj told the judges that he would leave it to the court to make the decision. He said that he would take pleasure in doing battle with the OTP, but added, “Is there anything new to be said here?”
Judge Antonetti told Seselj that the court had recognised his motion and will eventually rule on it.
The OTP requested that Seselj submit a written motion on these issues.
Prosecutor Mathais Marcussen told the judges that any delay in the trial had been on account of Seselj’s behaviour. He also rejected Seselj’s claim that the OTP had tampered with witnesses, saying that the accused had no factual basis for saying so.
“I did nothing to drag my feet through these proceedings,” Seselj told the judges. “All the reasons for waste and loss of time [are] on the prosecution.”
Seselj said that, according to the House of Lords, the most common abuse of due process occurs as a result of delays in legal proceedings. He refused to address the motion in writing, adding that it was “only a way for the prosecution to delay [the] decision”.
Seselj told the court, “Let’s have this done and over with.”
The court adjourned without naming a renewed start date for the trial.
Julia Hawes is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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