Seselj Lawyer Storm

Serb radical rails against court after it appoints a lawyer to represent him.

Seselj Lawyer Storm

Serb radical rails against court after it appoints a lawyer to represent him.

Wednesday, 9 November, 2005

Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj appeared before the court this week and lobbed his usual vitriol at the tribunal, telling the judges that they were violating his “most basic human rights” by forcing him to accept a defence counsel, and demanding that they allow him to represent himself.

The judges, however, stuck by their decision - even though Seselj had already driven away the first defence counsel the court appointed to represent him.

“We have already been over this before,” said a clearly exasperated Judge Carmel A Agius. “Do not think for a second that we are going to change our mind about this.”

The court appointed Dutch lawyer Tjeerd Van Der Spoel to act as a stand-by defence counsel, and told the defendant that the representative would be entitled to take over if Seselj became unruly in court.

When he first appeared before the court in February 2003, Seselj, in common with former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, informed the court that he planned to represent himself.

“Under no circumstances will I accept the assignment of defence counsel by you. I would consider this a limitation of my civil rights and prevention of my defence. In this courtroom, no one but me may speak on my behalf or defend me from the contents of this indictment. This then would be a put-up trial, and my presence here would be tantamount to nonsense,” he said.

The judges, reportedly fearful that Seselj would make a mockery of the proceedings, as Milosevic has often done, appointed Belgrade lawyer Aleksander Lazarevic to represent Seselj and stated that if the defendant’s conduct became too disruptive, he would be removed from the courtroom and Lazarevic would take over.

But the relationship deteriorated quickly. Seselj immediatley started writing protest letters to the court.

In hundreds of handwritten pages, he claimed the laptop computer provided him in the detention unit was meant to give him electric shocks and he vowed, among other things, to forbid the defence counsel to aid him in any way, not even to “wash my laundry or clean my shoes”.

In another letter, he requested contact with an Orthodox Christian priest “to confess of sin”. For this purpose, he asked to be visited by Bishop Filaret of Milesevo, a nationalist extremist, who proudly posed for cameras while wearing a machine gun.

He also requested that judge Wolfgang Schomburg, who was overseeing the pre-trial phase of his proceedings, be dismissed as he was of German nationality - Seselj claimed that this nation was biased against Serbs.

“Whenever I see Wolfgang Schomburg, I remember Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Jasenovac. The smell of crematoria and gas chambers comes into the Hague courtroom with him,” Seselj wrote.

He requested that the other two judges, Florence Ndepele Mwachande Mumba of Zambia and Judge Carmel Agius of Malta, be removed because they are Catholics. The Catholic church, he alleged, is one of the “most dangerous criminal organisations” and has perpetrated many crimes against Serbs.

In July, Seselj requested psychiatric aid to help him cope with his “very serious mental suffering”.

“Your judicial clothing and robes worn by the prosecution and the judges cause a great deal of disturbance for me,” he said. “I insist that you set a team of psychiatric experts who will examine whether your robes, which are reminiscent of the Roman Catholic inquisition, they really do cause anguish.”

In October, Seselj accused Lazarevic of contempt of court. The judges ruled that the defendant had “not provided so much as a scintilla of evidence to support his very grave allegations” and warned him that if he made further unsubstantiated accusations, he would be sanctioned.

Then, in December, Seselj lambasted Lazarevic in court, reportedly casting aspersions on his family. Fed up with his unruly client, the defence counsel threatened to sue the defendant for libel in a Serbian court, which in turn disqualified him from representing his client.

The court is hoping Van Der Spoel might fare a little better than his predecessor.

Karen Meirik is an IWPR reporter and Stacy Sullivan is IWPR’s programme manager in The Hague.

Support our journalists