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Seselj to Mount Oral Challenge

Serb nationalist politician will try to derail prosecution’s case against him.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Vojislav Seselj in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
    Vojislav Seselj in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

Vojislav Seselj announced at a hearing at the Hague tribunal this week that he will mount an oral challenge to the prosecution’s case in an attempt to have the charges against him dropped.

“I’m convinced that the prosecution has nothing in regards to each of the counts,” exclaimed Seselj, who represents himself. “They cannot link me to any of the charges…They have not presented any evidence. It’s totally hazy.”

All defendants at the tribunal have the opportunity to challenge the prosecution’s case after it is completed in a process known as the Rule 98 bis procedure. If the judges find there is absolutely no evidence to support the charges in the indictment, they can enter a full or partial acquittal before the defence case even begins.

Until the hearing this week, it was unclear whether Seselj planned to mount such a challenge, and even then it took several minutes – and inquires from all three judges - to get a straight answer from the accused.

“The entire Serbian public and the world public following these proceedings are convinced of an acquittal based on 98 bis, and that you will compensate me financially,” Seselj exclaimed. “I’m suffering every single day and more so day after day.”

Arrested in 2003, Seselj is charged with nine counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity – including murder, torture and forcible transfer – for atrocities carried out in an effort to expel the non-Serb population from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993. He remains leader of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, based in Belgrade.

Seselj’s trial has endured repeated delays since it officially began in November 2007, a full year after the original trial date was postponed due to the accused’s hunger strike.
Seselj was found guilty of contempt in July 2009 for revealing confidential details about protected witnesses in one of the books he authored. The accused is set to face a second contempt trial on similar charges.

Presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said the 98 bis hearing would probably take place around March 8 or 9, during which Seselj would have four hours to present oral arguments. A few weeks after the hearing, the bench will enter a judgement of “acquittal, partial acquittal or no acquittal”, Judge Antonetti said.

The trial process is able to continue after several months of “standby mode” because a handwriting expert appointed by the Seselj bench has finally deemed the so-called Mladic diaries – over 3,000 pages of wartime notes said to have been written by Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic, who remains wanted by the tribunal – to be authentic.

The notebooks were seized by the Serbian authorities last spring and a number of them have already been admitted as evidence in the trial of ex-Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic.

Judge Antonetti said the chamber will decide shortly if portions of the notebooks can be admitted as exhibits in the Seselj trial, as the prosecution requested several months ago.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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