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Seselj Continues to Obstruct Trial

Serbian politician is given one last chance to explain his disruptive behaviour, before his right to self-defence is taken from him again.
By Lisa Clifford
The tribunal has threatened to re-impose a court-appointed lawyer on Serbian ultra-nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, who goes on trial November 27 on charges of persecution, extermination, murder and torture.



The judges issued the warning after Seselj refused to attend a November 22 status hearing. He has been on hunger strike – also refusing to take his medication for asthma, hypertension and stomach ulcers – since November 10 and was reportedly feeling unwell.



Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party told media in the Balkans that Seselj will stop his hunger strike if his wife is allowed to visit; he continues to be allowed to represent himself; all court orders and documents are delivered on paper in Serbian; and his standby defence counsel is removed.



The judges warned that Seselj’s absence was grounds for standby lawyer David Hooper taking over his defence. He is currently defending himself.



Presiding Judge Alphons Orie labelled Seselj’s failure to attend the hearing as “disruptive conduct which substantially obstructs the proper and expeditious proceedings in his case”, adding it “warrants the imposition of counsel”.



He has been given until November 24 to respond in writing, or given the option of an oral submission at the pre-trial conference on November 27.



Seselj’s courtroom antics have already cost him the right to represent himself once, with judges in August assigning a lawyer to take over the running of his case when his vitriolic outbursts became too much. That right was reinstated on October 23, along with a warning that a lawyer would be reimposed if his disruptions continued.



If Hooper is drafted in, he could be in for a tough time. When the two men last met in court earlier this month, Seselj called Hooper a spy and asked to be removed, because he didn’t want to be in the same courtroom with his then standby lawyer. Hooper later told judges that their relationship is “absolute zero”.



A close ally of the late Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, Seselj is charged with the extermination, murder, persecution, deportation and the forcible transfer of non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia from 1991-1995. Judges recently ordered prosecutors to drop five charges and reduce the scope of their evidence to speed up his case.



Also this week, judges responded to a series of objections and requests from Seselj, including one for two cells with an adjourning door to which he has the key.



In a letter to the accused, acting deputy registrar Robin Vincent said that an adjoining cell was impossible because of the structure of the building. He pointed out that Seselj already has a second cell to store case-related materials, adding that the detention unit is willing to provide a key for this room.



He was also granted a designated visiting room to meet with legal associates, but is likely to be less happy with the Registry’s offer of a desktop computer for his second cell; training on how to use it; and printing equipment if he wants any hard copies of documents.



Seselj has repeatedly objected to fact that most tribunal submissions are only available in an electronic form on computer.



His opening statement is scheduled for November 28, with the first prosecution witness set to testify December 6.



Lisa Clifford is an IWPR editor in London.