News 04 Sep 13

Disqualified Hague Tribunal Judge Demands Explanation

Controversial Danish judge Frederik Harhoff, removed from Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj’s war crimes trial for alleged bias, rejected the claim that he is not impartial.

Denis Dzidic

Harhoff wrote to the Hague Tribunal on Tuesday asking why his opinion, and that of the presiding judge in the Seselj case, was not sought during the decision to disqualify him from the trial – an unprecedented move by the UN-backed court.

He was removed after Seselj filed a motion claiming that the judge was not impartial because he had showed “strong inclinations… to convict accused persons of Serbian ethnicity”.

The allegations were sparked by a leaked letter written by Harhoff, in which he raised concern about the court’s high-profile acquittals of Serbian and Croatian wartime commanders.

But the Danish judge said that the decision to disqualify him should have considered “the presiding judge’s report and my memorandum in which I explain that my private letter was sparked by my dilemma in the discovery of being a judge in an international court which – possibly – had been influenced by external sources”.

Harhoff also argued that his letter did not suggest that generals and military commanders should be convicted irrespective of the evidence against them.

“My personal comments in the letter are not in any way related to the accused Seselj, who is not a military commander, and has not been charged with having directed or commanded combatants during the armed conflict,” Harhoff wrote.

In the controversial letter that was leaked to the media,Harhoff said he had heard that the Tribunal’s president, Theodor Meron, an American, allegedly put pressure on other judges to approve the acquittals over the past year of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, Yugoslav general Momcilo Perisic and Serbian security officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic.

Seselj is on trial for allegedly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against the non-Serb population in Bosnia, Croatia and the Serbian province of Vojvodina between 1991 and 1994.

The verdict was expected in October, but the court has yet to name a replacement for Harhoff.

Chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz has also asked for reconsideration of the decision to remove Harhoff from Seselj’s case. 

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