The United Nations war crimes tribunal ICTY in The Hague has Thursday 6 November ordered a temporary release of ailing Serbian ultra-nationalist leader and war crimes indicted Vojislav Seselj (for war crimes committed in large parts of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vojvodina part of Serbia between 1991 and 1994 against the non-Serb population ) for “compelling humanitarian reasons.” The war crimes court said that Seselj should return to Serbia “to receive treatment in the most suitable environment.”
Seselj had surgery for colon cancer last year, and the recent visit by Serbian doctors to his Hague cell resulted in their public disclosure that his cancer had spread to his liver.
Seselj surrendered in 2003 on ground of “fighting for Serbian interests” – he said at the time. There had been numerous delays in his trial due to his repeated obstructions to the court trial process (Seselj has insisted on representing himself in the trial) and to top it all off, a dispute among judges in 2013 led to one of the judges’ ( Judge Frederick Harhoff ) being disqualified and replaced. This replacement in October 2013 has meant that instead of a judgment being delivered in the case the new judge Mandiaye Niang has needed and still needs time, it seems, to familiarise himself with the case, whose trial hearing had drawn to the stage of closing arguments way back in March 2012 and Judgment was expected in October 2013.
Seselj is also charged with inciting others to commit war crimes in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s by creating a militia and sending its members off with incendiary speeches. He appeared at the time in Serbian parliament time after time maintaining hate-filled speech against non-Serbs (Croats and Bosniaks mainly) and urging for the creation of Greater Serbia, which thrust horrendously brutal winds into ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs of much of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990’s. During the Serb-aggression against Croatia Seselj evilly insisted in his public speeches that “the eyes of every Croat must be dug out with a rusted spoon” (!).
His judges proposed this year that he could await his verdict in Serbia, but Seselj refused, saying he would not abide by court rules to remain under house arrest and avoid political activities (despite being in prison since 2003 he remained and is the leader of the Serbian Radical Party). Moreover, he has been demanding that the war crimes tribunal pay him 12 million euros (about US$15 million) for trial costs and damages (the Hague chamber dismissed the demand).
While in The Hague, Seselj has been tried and convicted of contempt of court three times for revealing the personal details of protected witnesses.
Regardless of the serious medical diagnosis, Serbian media report that Seselj has no intention of using the temporary release from the war crimes tribunal’s jail for medical treatments but has announced his threat of revenge.
“If I come to Serbia at all I will not be engaging in medical treatment but will turn all my energy into revenge”, said Seselj, as reported by Serbian news portal Blic.
It’s unclear as to whom or where Seselj’s threats of revenge are directed but one may expect to find out once he lands in Belgrade and starts addressing the Serbian public. One can expect a stirring of the Greater Serbia ideas into some kind of frenzy in the efforts to once again glorify the genocide committed by Serbs in early 1990’s in the name of Greater Serbia. The disquieting question as to why the ICTY is taking so long to deliver its judgment on the trial against Seselj is on many a lip across the world right now.
The Croats of Vukovar, in Croatia – where Seselj’s politics of Greater Serbia left the city devastated and many murdered, maimed and raped victims still without justice. 18th November 2014 will mark the 23rd anniversary of the fall of Vukovar and mass murders committed against Croats, mass rapes and mass destruction. To Vukovar, Seselj is considered a war criminal and in light of his temporary release from The Hague, pending a judgment, this year’s commemoration is destined to bring about a bitter taste of devastating disappointment and confusion with the international war crimes tribunal justice system. One assumes that The Hague does not want another prisoner to die on its premises, awaiting judgment. In many ways the decision by the court to release Seselj is arguably understandable on humanitarian grounds, however the same decision has left the world not knowing, for now, whether the tribunal thinks he is guilty or innocent of the charges against him. Furthermore, there has been no kind of “action plan” released by the tribunal regarding a delivery of judgment and this is truly confusing and utterly unfair to the victims.
As to reactions to Seselj’s temporary release the vice-president of the Serbian Radical Party (to which Seselj is still the president), Milorad Mircic, has stated for the Serbian media the following: “If life in Serbia was better we would welcome Seselj as a victim. However, since we live in misery and squalor he will be the only hope and straw of salvation to take us out of this swamp into which Aleksandar Vucic and Tomislav Nikolic have taken us with galloping speed”.
While the war crimes tribunal in The Hague may have had the best, and praiseworthy, humanitarian reasons for temporarily releasing a reportedly very ill man from its prison, pending judgment from the protracted trial, one finds it difficult to accept or understand why the treatment for cancer could not have continued in Netherlands – such a move would have also satisfied the victims’ human rights to justice, which includes medical treatments under the jurisdiction of the country in which the criminal court is located.
Judging by his threats of revenge, receiving medical treatment seems to be the last thing on Seselj’s and his Serbian Radical Party’s mind. And the first thing on the victims of Serb aggression and genocide minds leaves no room for speculation: yet again, they have been left at the mercy of everything else except transparent and true justice. They are left in confusion and disrespect by the very institution set up to deliver justice for them: surely, the victims are more interested in the war tribunal’s plan for the delivery of the judgment than in the place of Seselj’s medical treatment! They deserve to know when the war crimes tribunal plans to publish a judgment, regardless of what that judgment might be. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)