Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Vojislav Seselj in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj has demanded that the case against him be thrown out at the Hague tribunal, plus a compensation award of 12 million euro (16 million US dollars).
Seselj made the request after one of the judges hearing the case against him, Frederik Harhoff, was disqualified only a few months before judgement was to be rendered. (See Decision To Disqualify Seselj Judge Upheld.)
The judgement date of October 30 was subsequently cancelled, and Judge Mandiaye Niang from Senegal was appointed to replace Judge Harhoff.
Seselj, who has been in detention since 2003, is charged with nine counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities carried out in an effort to expel non-Serbs from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993.
His trial was supposed to start in 2006, but was postponed for nearly a year after he went on hunger strike. When proceedings finally got under way in November 2007, they were delayed for long periods at a time. Seselj, who represents himself in the courtroom, chose not to present a defence case. Closing arguments in his trial were held in March 2012.
In the 16-page English translation of a November 20 motion he wrote in Serbian, Seselj objects to the decision to appoint a new judge, arguing that this is “legally impossible” because “Judge Niang has not spent a single day participating in the proceedings”.
In addition to not being there to observe and question witnesses, Judge Niang “could not have read the trial transcript, and he will not be able to read all that even in a year”, the statement says.
The only way Judge Niang could legitimately take part in proceedings would be in the event of a retrial, Seselj contends.
“That the proceedings against Vojislav Seselj have been dragged out is so obvious that it is beyond dispute that [he] has been subjected to unbelievable torture,” the motion states.
Seselj alleges, as he has many times previously, that the charges against him are unsubstantiated and “trumped up”.
Simultaneously, Seselj has been tried and convicted of contempt of court three times for revealing personal details of protected witnesses. Referencing one of these convictions and the 18-month prison sentence imposed, he notes that “had this not been tragic, it would have been comical”.
The statement says that the defendant has suffered “non-pecuniary damages that cannot be compensated by the mere recognition of the violations of his rights”. The recompense should be 12 million euro, it concludes.
The prosecution responded on December 2 by arguing that the trial should continue “at the deliberation stage” once Judge Niang familiarises himself with the evidence on the record.
It said that given all the evidence already presented during the trial – including 97 witnesses and 1,399 exhibits – “the interests of justice demands a determination of whether or not the accused is guilty. This is unaffected by the recent finding of an appearance of bias on the part of one judge”.
The prosecution said there was a precedent for bringing in a replacement judge at a late stage of proceedings. In the case against the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, Judge Iain Bonomy replaced Judge Richard May after the close of the prosecution’s case, when Judge May stepped down on health grounds.
In that instance, Judge Bonomy filed a certification that “he had familiarised himself with the existing record”.
The prosecution notes that Judge Bonomy had a far larger record to familiarise himself with than Judge Niang– a total of 358 witnesses as opposed to 97 in the Seselj trial.
Therefore, the prosecution continued, the “trial chamber should order a continuation of the proceedings and start deliberations anew, notwithstanding any pending appeal, as soon as Judge Niang has familiarised himself with the record of the proceedings”.
Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.
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