News 24 Nov 14

Hague Tribunal Defends Vojislav Seselj Release

The president of the UN-backed court, Theodor Meron, defended the temporary release of war crimes defendant Seselj after the Croatian leadership called it a setback for international justice.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Theodor Meron. Photo: ICTY.

Meron responded to strong criticism from Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, who said that releasing ultra-nationalist Seselj was causing fear among his alleged victims, by arguing that local politicians should be responsible for reconciliation.

“I've always believed that politicians, religious and other local leaders within their societies must be the ones who will speed up the process [of reconciliation],” Meron said in his reply to a letter from Josipovic, which the Croatian leader made public on Sunday.

After his release to undergo cancer treatment in Serbia, Seselj staged a rally of his Serbian Radical Party in Belgrade and made hardline nationalist statements that infuriated Zagreb.

This caused Josipovic to write a letter to Meron, expressing disappointment that Seselj had been on trial for 11 years without any verdict being handed down.

Jospiovic said that this represented “a defeat for justice and international law, causing the public to lose confidence in the international judiciary”.

Meron said that he understood Josipovic’s concerns about the possible impact of Seselj’s return to Belgrade, where he was greeted as a hero by his supporters, but insisted that granting the nationalist leader a temporary release was justified.

“You know that several things influenced this process, such as the insufficient number of courtrooms, the health condition of the accused, as well as the fact that he is defending himself and that a judge was replace in the council,” the Hague Tribunal president wrote.

A judge in Seselj’s trial was removed last year for alleged bias and his replacement is only expected to have familiarised himself with the mass of evidence in the marathon trial by July 2015.

Meron also promised Josipovic that a verdict would be delivered soon after that.

Seselj is on trial for war crimes committed in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia.

He has also angered Zagreb this month by sending a press release to the Croatian media on the day when Croats commemorate the fall of the town of Vukovar to Serbian forces in 1991, calling it “the day of Vukovar's liberation”.

The Croatian parliament meanwhile has started consultations on passing a declaration condemning the release of Seselj.

Former Croatian prime minister and independent MP Jadranka Kosor initiated the idea, claiming that the Hague Tribunal freed Seselj without any justification.

Members of the governing centre-left Social Democratic Party, as well as leading centre-right opposition party the Croatian Democratic Union and two smaller parties, have agreed to work on the declaration’s text.

Kosor said on Monday that she was not sure when the text will be ready and when MPs will vote on it, but explained that “it is important that we agree [on the text], which would be a great statement”.

She declined to speculate whether the declaration will be passed by Thursday, when the European Parliament will discuss Seselj’s release, on the initiative of Croatian MEPs.

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