The Seselj Mess Just Got Messier Following his Provisional Release to Serbia

by Alex Fielding, @alexpfielding on Twitter

I was interviewed last week by Daisy Sindelar of Radio Free Europe on the latest twist in the Vojislav Seselj saga (the article is available here). On November 6, a majority of the Seselj Trial Chamber (Judges Antonetti and Lattanzi, with Judge Niang dissenting) issued a provisional release decision on the grounds of Seselj’s ill health from liver cancer. The Chamber initiated the provisional release propio motu for the first time in ICTY history. The legal basis for this decision is problematic on a number of levels, but I couldn’t find much in the way of analysis beyond Luka Misetic’s post (in which he recommends that the Chamber issue an oral decision soon, with written reasons to follow, under rule 98 ter to try and avoid the Slobodan Milosevic scenario where a high-profile ICTY defendant dies in custody prior to judgment).

The Seselj saga has been a disaster for the ICTY, ever since he surrendered voluntarily in 2003 for war crimes and crimes against humanity charges for atrocities carried out in an effort to expel non-Serbs from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993.

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Vojislav Seselj in Belgrade, photo: e-novine.com

In his eleven years of detention, he has been found in contempt of court three times for disclosing the identities of protected witnesses, refused court-appointed counsel by going on a hunger strike, and used his resulting right to self-representation to delay, obfuscate and insult those he faced during the drawn out proceedings. The Appeals Chamber’s decision to overturn the trial decision and allow Seselj to represent himself was particularly controversial as it appeared to be motivated at least in part by Seselj’s one month long hunger strike in protest of the trial decision.

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A Proposal to Compensate the Acquitted and Promote Reconciliation in the Balkans

by Alex Fielding, @alexpfielding on twitter

In light of the ongoing Seselj drama following the disqualification of Judge Harhoff for his pro-conviction bias (see my earlier post here and recent developments here) and the controversial acquittals of Momcilo Perisic, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac by the ICTY Appeals Chamber, and those of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic at trial, I keep coming back to the question of compensation for acquitted persons for the years spent in detention. While this may not, on its face, be a popular proposition for human rights activists and a general public whose primary concern is ‘ending impunity’, consider the following figures.

Momcilo Perisic, Photo: ICTY

According to my calculations, Momcilo Perisic, former Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army, spent approximately 4 years, 5 months and 10 days in detention prior to his acquittal on appeal on 28 February 2013 (note that these figures are NOT including the periods of provisional release from the ICTY’s detention facility in The Hague, which in Perisic’s case amounted to an additional 3.5 years).

Ante Gotovina, former Colonel General of the Croatian Army and Commander of ‘Operation Storm’, spent approximately 6 years, 11 months and 12 days in detention prior to his acquittal on appeal on 16 November 2012.  His co-accused Mladen Markac, former Operational Commander of the Croatian Special Police, spent 5 years, 7 months and 12 days in detention prior to his acquittal on appeal.

Ante Gotovina & Mladen Markac, Photo: Guardian

Ante Gotovina & Mladen Markac, Photo: Guardian

Including time spent on provisional release (I couldn’t find the relevant detention figures that do NOT include provisional release), it took 10 years from the time Jovica Stanisic, former Chief of the Serbian State Security Service, was sent to the ICTY to his acquittal at trial on 30 May 2013.  His co-accused Franko Simatovic, member of the Serbian State Security Service, waited 9 years, 11 months and 19 days for his acquittal at trial. Both men have been released pending the Prosecution’s appeal. They have also submitted arguments on appeal to the effect that the trial judgment was tainted by the bias of one of the sitting judges on the case, Judge Harhoff, but more on this later.

Vojislav Seselj, former President of the Serbian Radical Party, has already spent 10 years, 8 months and 25 days in detention (although 4 years and 9 months were a result of his three convictions for contempt of court) as he awaits a trial judgment that may be fatally flawed. Closing arguments wrapped up in March 2012 and the judgment had been scheduled for delivery on 30 October 2013 but then Judge Harhoff was disqualified for bias on 28 August 2013. Since there was no reserve judge in this case, the acting President of the ICTY Judge Agius controversially appointed Judge Niang to replace Judge Harhoff on 31 October 2013, even though he was not present during the entirety of the trial itself.

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Judge Harhoff Disqualified for Bias from Seselj Trial Chamber

by Alex Fielding, @alexpfielding on twitter

Marko Milanovic over at EJIL Talk! has posted an excellent analysis of the decision by a specially-convened ICTY Chamber (a 2-1 decision with Judge Liu dissenting) to disqualify Judge Harhoff for bias in the Vojislav Seselj case.  The decision is available here and for context, here is our earlier post on the letter that led to Judge Harhoff’s disqualification.  So what happens now?

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Photo Credit: ICTY

1. Seselj Retrial?

As Marko notes, the Seselj Trial Chamber had no reserve judge, and therefore a re-trial seems like the only option. Seselj has already spent 10 years in detention and there are serious fair trial concerns if he were to start over under the ICTY branch of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (which has a renewable four year mandate that started in 2012). How long must a trial last before it becomes a violation of the fundamental right to a fair trial within a reasonable time? The UN will surely not be happy with the prospect of funding and extending the ICTY’s mandate solely because of a Seselj retrial.  Seselj could even file a motion for compensation based on his extensive period of detention and the trial’s collapse.

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