By Bojana Barlovac
The UN war crimes court on Wednesday dismissed a motion filed by Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj asking that the indictment against him be dropped midway through his trial.
The three-judge chamber of the UN war crimes court began reading their decision on Seselj’s motion at 9am.
While the presiding judge, Jean-Claude Antonetti, will continue reading his dissenting opinion into the afternoon, he has made it clear that the Trial Chamber found that the prosecution has presented sufficient evidence to warrant the continuation of the trial.
As he read the tribunal’s decision, Judge Antonetti repeatedly stated that the Trial Chamber had seen sufficient evidence for a reasonable trial chamber to conclude that the accused committed some of the crimes listed in the indictment.
Seselj is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia, ranging from hate speech to persecution, including killing and deportation.
In his dissenting opinion, Judge Antonetti noted that Seselj has been in detention far beyond a reasonable period, and that his custody should not be extended without good reason. He also pointed to other parts of the decision with which he did not agree.
Seselj filed the request for acquittal based on court regulations which allow the defendant, after the prosecution is finished with presentation of evidence, to explain to the Trial Chamber why he believes that the prosecutors failed to prove his responsibility.
The UN war crimes court, formally called the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, has never acquitted an accused person at this stage of the trial.
Lawyer Branislav Tapuskovic, who has been working in the Netherlands for 13 years, says that the court’s decision is a disturbing precedent that was not expected.
He explains that according to Rule 98 bis, the Trial Chamber was only expected to examine whether the prosecution had brought enough evidence on each count to merit a continuation of the trial, and not to engage in any evaluation of the merits of the prosecution’s arguments.
“The trial chamber has actually prejudiced Seselj’s verdict,” Tapuskovic told Balkan Insight.
The vice-president of Seselj’s party, meanwhile, criticised the court, calling it a political institution founded by the Americans and EU states, and adding that Seselj would continue his fight for the truth.
“This is why it does not come as a surprise that representatives of the former Serbian government, police and military forces are accused, and now we see even opposition leaders are blamed,” Todorovic told Balkan Insight, referring to Seselj’s time as an opposition leader in the early 90s.
The SRS official went on to say that Seselj will continue his fight at the court “to show the truth.”
According to the rules of the court, it is possible for the court to reject some points or specific charges in the indictment at this stage.
When the Trial Chamber finishes reading its decision, the proceedings should continue with the defense presentation of evidence, according to previous court announcements.
Seselj surrendered to the ICTY in February 2003 and his trial began in November 2007 after one unsuccessful attempt and a hunger strike by the accused.
The prosecution alleges that Seselj, along with others involved in a criminal enterprise led by former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, attempted to establish a new Serb state on Croatian, Bosnian and even Serbian territory via state-sponsored persecution which included killing, deportation, mistreatment, plunder and destruction of Croat and Muslim property.
Seselj is accused of crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Croatia, in particular of massacres at Ovcara and Vocin in Croatia and the expulsion of Croats from Vojvodina.
According to the prosecution, he advocated in public speeches the notion of a Greater Serbia, and with his extreme rhetoric he mobilised not only the armed Serbian Radical Party, SRS, volunteer units under him, but other Serb forces as well, inciting them to persecute Croats and Muslims.