News 13 Dec 17

Prosecution Challenges Vojislav Seselj’s War Crimes Acquittal

The prosecution asked the UN court in The Hague to quash the acquittal of Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj and convict him of war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia.

Radosa Milutinovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Vojislav Seselj. Photo: Beta/Sasa Djordjevic.

Prosecutor Mathias Marcussen asked the judges at the Mechanism for International Tribunals in The Hague on Wednesday to overturn last year’s acquittal and sentence Vojislav Seselj to 28 years in prison, or to order a retrial.

“Justice is not served… If this verdict stands, it would not only be an insult to victims, but would undermine this court,” Marcussen said.

Seselj, the leader of the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party, who was freed for cancer treatment in 2014 and refused to return from Belgrade to attend the hearing, has asked for the appeal to be rejected and his acquittal confirmed.

He will be able to file a written response to Wednesday’s hearing within ten days of receiving the Serbian-language translation of the proceedings.

Prosecutor Marcussen argued in court that the judges in the first-instance trial failed to review evidence about crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.

Because of that failure, the court reached the wrong conclusion that there was no joint criminal enterprise aimed at expelling Serbs from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, he insisted.

Marcussen said the verdict’s ruling that there was no widespread and systematic attack against Croats and Bosniaks in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was also wrong.

“The verdict barely speaks about crimes - from 357 pages, crimes are only mentioned in ten,” said the prosecutor.

He added that the judges did not analyse evidence about the mass deportation and forced movement of non-Serbs which he said were key to the joint criminal enterprise in which the prosecution alleges that Seselj participated.

As evidence that Seselj had a criminal intent to persecute, the prosecutor quoted the Serbian politician’s statements that “Serbs and Croats cannot live together” and that “rivers of blood will run if Bosnia and Herzegovina declares independence”.

“This is an insult for witnesses and victims,” Marcussen said.

He argued that the prosecution had proved that fighters controlled by Seselj, together with other Serb forces, committed systematic crimes during which “tens of thousands were expelled”.

“The victims and prosecutors deserve an explanation how the majority in the chamber could acquit Seselj and reach a conclusion which is in contradiction to many other verdicts,” he said.

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.

He 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”.

According to the verdict, it was not proved that Seselj was responsible for the persecution of non-Serbs in Vukovar and Hrtkovci, or abetted and assisted crimes with hate speech at other locations in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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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