News 19 Jan 15

Croatian Leader Appeals to UN Over Seselj

Newly-elected Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic urged the UN secretary-general to push for Serbian nationalist war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj to be returned to custody in The Hague.

Sven Milekic


Newly-elected Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Photo: Beta.

In a letter to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon which was made public on Sunday, Grabar Kitarovic urged the cancellation of Seselj’s temporary release for cancer treatment and a quick verdict in his trial in case he dies before being judged by the UN-backed court.

Grabar Kitarovic said that although the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, is an independent judicial body, the UN should intervene because the court’s purpose – to “contribute to the restoration and maintenance of peace” – was being undermined.

She said that she feared that Serbian Radical Party leader Seselj could evade justice by dying before the final verdict, like former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 while standing trial in The Hague.

Victims of war crimes “deserve to hear the judgment of the ICTY condemning Mr. Seselj’s criminal conduct”, she said.

Seselj has caused controversy with inflammatory nationalist statements about establishing a ‘Greater Serbia’ since his temporary release on health grounds in November last year.

Grabar Kitarovic argued that he had flouted the ICTY’s conditions by holding rallies and stating repeatedly that he does not intend to return to The Hague for the verdict in his case.

“In all cases prior to Seselj’s, an accused was required to promise to comply with Tribunal orders, to refrain from public comments, to refrain from political engagements, and to comply with witness protection measures before provisional release could be granted,” Grabar Kitarovic said in her letter.

“Inexplicably, Seselj’s trial chamber decided to waive these requirements for the benefit of an individual who has shown nothing but contempt for the Tribunal, for its orders, and for its witnesses,” she added.

Grabar Kitarovic also criticised “the failure of Serbian officials to publicly disavow [Seselj’s] statements”, saying that this had caused tensions in the former Yugoslav region.

But Serbian deputy prime minister Rasim Ljajic, who is also the president of the Serbian national council for cooperation with the ICTY, said that only the Hague court, not the UN secretary-general, could deal with the Seselj issue.

“Everyone knows that Ban Ki-moon has no authority in this matter, much less Serbia,” Ljajic said.

He said that giving such importance to “one non-parliamentary party [Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party]” could “only complicate relations between Serbia and Croatia”.

“What has been done now is not a step in the right direction. We want to normalise our relations and we did not made any step to worsen them,” Lajic said.

The Hague Tribunal last week rejected a request from the ICTY prosecution to put Seselj back into detention, saying that he had not breached the terms of his conditional release.

Seselj had been in custody since 2003, when he voluntarily surrendered. He is on trial for wartime crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.

The verdict in his case was scheduled for October last year, but was postponed after one of the judges in the trial was removed for alleged bias.

The new judge is expected to take until at least the end of June 2015 to familiarise himself with details of the case, causing yet another delay in the marathon trial.

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