Ever since indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj was released from the International Criminal Tribunal/ICTY last November on account of his reported terminal illness, pending judgment, his public appearances in Serbia, filled with ethnic hatred, keep raising unrest and fear.
In early December 2014, the ICTY prosecution filed a motion seeking that Seselj’s temporary release be revoked, after it had allowed the time for an appeal of the decision to release Seselj lapse!
Chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in the motion that the court’s “trust in Seselj’s conduct was without foundation”.
“He has clearly demonstrated that his health condition is no barrier to making unacceptable public statements that are inflammatory and insulting to victim communities. He has also made public statements that call into question the trial chamber’s assessment of the extremity of his health situation,” said Brammertz.
The European parliament had at the end of November 2014 adopted a resolution urging the Tribunal to rethink its decision to temporarily release Seselj.
“The European parliament strongly condemns Seselj’s warmongering, incitement to hatred and encouragement of territorial claims and his attempts to derail Serbia from its European path,” said the resolution adopted by lawmakers in Strasbourg.
Croatia had also condemned his release and called for him to be returned to The Hague.
But, the ICTY Trial chamber had on 13 January 2015 ruled against the motion filed by the prosecution and ruled against putting Seselj back into detention, saying that he had not breached the terms of his conditional release (not to have contact with victims or to try and influence them, not to obstruct the course of justice, to appear before the Chambers when ordered).
Seselj’s vulgar and offensive behaviour aimed at victims of war crimes in Croatia, his threats to pursue the aims of Greater Serbia – i.e. expanding Serbia into neighbouring countries of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as has been the terrible attempt during the 1990’s terror and war of aggression, ethnic cleansing and genocide, in which it is alleged in ICTY indictment he took active part, continues from the streets of Serbia.
But there is new hope on the horizon that may put Seselj in check and disarm him from disturbing the peace, causing unrest and faring up hatred.
Croatia’s President-elect Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic wrote a letter to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in which she urged the cancellation of Seselj’s temporary release for cancer treatment and a quick verdict in his trial in case he dies before being judged by the UN-backed court.
Grabar Kitarovic said that although the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, is an independent judicial body, the UN should intervene because the court’s purpose – to “contribute to the restoration and maintenance of peace” – was being undermined.
She said that she feared that Serbian Radical Party leader Seselj could evade justice by dying before the final verdict, like former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 while standing trial in The Hague.
Victims of war crimes “deserve to hear the judgment of the ICTY condemning Mr. Seselj’s criminal conduct”, she said.
This is the 13th year of Seselj’s case before the ICTY.
As can be expected Grabar-Kitarovic’s letter to the UN regarding Seselj and the ICTY gave rise to many reactions in the media and all of them as far as I can see keep saying that ICTY is independent and UN Security Council, or anyone, cannot interfere or try and influence its decisions, that the letter should not have been sent to the UN. Even Croatia’s hopeless foreign affairs minister Vesna Pusic said that the letter to UN means nothing as “everything that could have been done by Croatia has been done,” she said.
But that is not true.
Everything that could have been done by Croatia was not done and it took a new president-elect to go that step further to the UN, the authority to which ICTY answers.
All the reactions to Grabar-Kitarovic’s letter to the UN that see no benefit or use in it are in fact the reactions of those who seem to lack in the knowledge of the full justice process and avenues. They fail to see that Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic actually took the only right and proper step by writing to the UN, where the Security Council to which the ICTY answers, is actually akin a judicial authority that looks into the judgments and the work of judges upon complaints being lodged. And if Grabar-Kitarovic letter can be seen as a complaint and/or an expression of concern that touches the very foundation which the ICTY was set up to protect – restoration and maintenance of peace – then UN Security Council has a duty to address this. Independence of courts does not mean independence from the authority set up to ensure that the independent tribunals actually do their job properly and with regard to maintaining the standards of peace they were set up to maintain.
In Western democracies, where courts are independent, we are used to bodies such as Judicial Commissions whose role and authority includes examination and investigation of complaints against judicial officers. I would think that in some way the UN Security Council would fulfill a similar role towards judges of the ICTY and much more along the lines of ensuring that the court is maintaining the non-negotiable standards of ensuring peace maintenance and restoration. If a court takes more than 13 years to deliver its verdict, if a court releases the accused prior to judgment due to illness, if a court does not impose release conditions that include “a ban from offensive behaviour towards the victims associated with the case”, if a court has forgotten its duty to maintain peace … if all these and more amount to a genuine concern for peace, then UN Security Council does not in my opinion have a choice but to intervene with view to weighing the judges’ decisions within the context they are expected to deliver – peace, not aggravation of peace . It’s such a joy to see that Croatia is finally getting a world-class leader in Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic who knows how to address concerns and has the courage to address them in more ways than one in pursuit of justice for the victims. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)