News 14 Dec 17

Vojislav Seselj ‘Slept Through’ War Crimes Appeal

Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj scorned a prosecution appeal against his war crimes acquittal at the UN court in The Hague, saying didn’t watch it because he was asleep.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Vojislav Seselj. Photo: Sasa Djordjevic/Beta.

Vojislav Seselj, the president of the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party, said on Wednesday that he ignored the prosecution’s appeal at the Mechanism for International Tribunals, which challenged his acquittal, and will not file a response to it.

“I did not even watch [the hearing], I was asleep at the time,” Seselj told Beta news agency after the appeal was heard in The Hague.

“I’m done with that,” he added.

Seselj was freed by the Hague court for cancer treatment in 2014, refused to return, and did not attend the appeal hearing.

He had been invited to watch Wednesday’s proceedings live from Belgrade, and the court said he could file a written response to the hearing within ten days of receiving the Serbian-language translation.

Since his release, Seselj - who is an MP in the Serbian parliament - has repeatedly mocked the Hague court and dared the Belgrade authorities to send him back by force.

The prosecutor, Mathias Marcussen, asked the judges on Wednesday to overturn last year’s acquittal and sentence Seselj to 28 years in prison, or to order a retrial.

Under the first-instance verdict in March 2016, Seselj was acquitted of the persecution of non-Serbs on political, racial and religious grounds, deportation and forcible resettlement, as well as crimes against humanity.

Seselj was found not guilty of murders, torture, cruel treatment, the destruction of villages or devastation not justified by military necessity, the destruction of religious buildings and pillaging public or private property, as well as the violation of laws and customs of war.

The verdict found that some of the crimes described in the indictment were committed and that Serbian Radical Party volunteers were involved in them, but that they did not act on Seselj’s orders and approval.

It was confirmed that mass murders, torture, cruel treatment, sexual violence and robbery were committed at several locations in Vukovar in Croatia and Zvornik, Sarajevo, Mostar and Nevesinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But by a majority vote, the judges determined that there was no joint criminal enterprise aimed at creating a unified ‘Greater Serbian’ state on large parts of territory of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

They further determined that the creation of a ‘Greater Serbia’ was Seselj’s political goal, but that this did not imply the commission of crimes.

According to the verdict, in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vojvodina there was no widespread and systematic attack against non-Serb civilians, but a conflict between warring parties.

The judges determined, again by a majority vote, that Seselj called for persecution of non-Serbs in some of his speeches, including a speech targeting the Croat population in the village of Hrtkovci in Serbia in May 1992.

But they concluded that “the prosecution has not proved that the mentioned speech led to the departure of Croats and the persecution campaign or that there was a causal connection between Seselj’s speeches and crimes”.

Presiding judge Theodor Meron said that the final verdict will be handed down soon. Last week Meron told the UN Security Council that the court’s decision is scheduled for the “first part of 2018”. 

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