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Seselj Demands Funding for His Defence

Serbian leader says he will go on single-handedly if the tribunal refuses to cover the cost of his defence.
By Lisa Clifford
Serbian ultra-nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj reiterated this week that he would represent himself at his upcoming Hague tribunal trial, if necessary without the help of any legal experts or advisors.

The court’s registry has refused to pay for Seselj’s legal team, saying it does not offer funding to accused who represent themselves. The leader of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, ended a month-long hunger strike last December when the court reinstated his right to act as his own lawyer.

He told a hearing on May 22 to discuss issues relating to the trial that he is adamant that the tribunal pick up the cost of his defence. If it won’t, Seselj says he will be forced to dismantle his team and go on single-handedly.

“I will be entirely alone in the courtroom with no assistants and advisors,” said Seselj, who later asked how much the court-imposed lawyers had cost. “It will be up to the tribunal to explain how this will be fair.”

Pre-trial judge Jean Claude Antonetti responded that it would be “absolutely impossible” for Seselj to handle his defence alone and advised him to ask the trial judges to review the registry decision not to pay.

When Antonetti asked Seselj about his financial resources, he responded, “I have a lot less money than in 2003.”

Seselj has been in custody for four years. His trial was delayed by the hunger strike and previously by a barrage of legal motions and courtroom theatrics from the accused.

Courtroom congestion at the tribunal means the case is now unlikely to begin before November.

In court this week, Seselj spoke about his March request that contempt of court proceedings be started against chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte and prosecutors Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff and Daniel Saxon.

He accuses them of encouraging prosecution investigators to “threaten, intimidate, inflict injuries upon, and offer bribes to, potential defence witnesses” so they will appear for the prosecution and give false testimony against Seselj.

Judges have postponed their decision on the motion until after the end of the trial, and Seselj said this week he would appeal that verdict as he was afraid that Del Ponte - whose term expires in September - would flee to her native Switzerland.

Prosecutor Christine Dahl this week described his accusations as “malicious and slanderous … false and without any basis in fact”.

“This office has and will not bribe, intimidate and coerce,” she said. “Our task is to do justice, and the foundation of that is the truth.”

Seselj is accused of planning and inciting the extermination and murder, persecution, deportation and forcible transfer of non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia between 1991 and 1995.

Lisa Clifford is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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