Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Seselj to Have His Say

(TU No 470, 29-Sep-06)
According to a majority decision by the pre-trial chamber on September 26, the notoriously volatile Seselj, a former leader of the Serbian Radical Party, will have the opportunity to address the judges, despite the court’s earlier decision to ban him from conducting his own defence.

Judges Alphons Orie, Patrick Robinson and Bakone Justice Moloto had previously denied Seselj this right, due to the streams of invectives he repeatedly unleashed upon the court at pre-trial hearings.

Seselj’s remarks have been disruptive and were directed at a number of courtroom officials. At one point, he declared that “the smell of crematoriums and gas chambers comes into The Hague courtroom” with a certain member of the court.

In an earlier interview, a spokesman from the office of the prosecutor told IWPR that permitting Seselj to conduct his own defence would “wreck the process” and “make it impossible to conduct fair and dignified proceedings”.

Yet Orie and Robinson voted in favour of allowing Seselj to make an opening statement. Moloto voted against it, as he believes giving the statement is incompatible with the chamber’s previous decision barring Seselj from representing himself.

While permitting Seselj to make an opening statement may be seen as a compromise, it could allow him to present another vitriolic speech in the media spotlight of the first day of trial, which is scheduled to begin on November 2.

Some within the court also fear that permitting Seselj to hold the floor could allow him, through his grandstanding, to undermine the legitimacy of the court.

“If he says something outrageous, we cannot stop it,” said Anton Nikiforov, spokesman for the prosecutor. “It is in the judges’ hands.”

Seselj has repeatedly demonstrated his disdain for the tribunal, describing his imposed counsel, wig-wearing British attorney David Hooper, as “that man with the bird’s nest on his head” at the September 14 conference. He has also filed a number of written submissions to the court that were filled with obscenities, professional insults and ethnic slurs. Additionally, Seselj participated in a Serbian election campaign while awaiting trial, a move that contravenes the rules of detention.

It is also uncertain whether the move to allow the opening statement will appease Seselj, who has continually asserted his right to defend himself before the court. At a September 14 status conference, Seselj stated that he would “never speak to Hooper or any other spy…who denies me my right to represent myself. I am a calm and balanced person, but until you restore my right to represent myself, I will not participate in the proceedings.”

The defence is currently appealing the pre-trial chamber’s decision to impose counsel.

The ultra-nationalist is charged with 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity between 1991 and 1993.

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