Two Serbian Radical Party politicians are refusing to travel to The Hague to face contempt-of-court proceedings after the UN court revoked its decision to allow a trial in Belgrade because witnesses said they feared for their safety.
Serbian Radical Party MP Vjerica Radeta told BIRN that she and her party colleague Petar Jojic will not go to the The Hague voluntarily to face trial for contempt of court, despite the latest ruling by the UN’s Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.
The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals said on Tuesday that it will return the legal proceedings against the two ultranationalist politicians from Belgrade to The Hague because witnesses were unwilling to reveal information to the Serbian authorities out of fear for their lives and safety. It called for their immediate arrest.
But Radeta declared that whatever the Serbian authorities decide to do about the case was “not my problem”.
“I will not contact anyone from state institutions regarding the decision; I simply don’t care about it,” she said.
Jojic and Radeta are charged with contempt of the Hague court by interfering with witnesses at the trial of their party leader, Vojislav Seselj.
They are accused of threatening, blackmailing and bribing witnesses to either change their testimonies or to not testify at all.
Seselj was convicted of war crimes in April 2018 and sentenced to ten years in prison, but will serve no jail time because of the years he spent in custody prior to sentencing.
Radeta argued that she and Jojic are protected from extradition by the Serbian constitution and by a ruling from Belgrade Higher Court in 2016 that said there were no legal grounds for extraditing the Radicals because Serbia’s Law on Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal only obliges Belgrade to extradite people charged with war crimes, not those charged with contempt of court.
BIRN contacted the Serbian Justice Ministry for a comment, but received no reply by the time of publication.
However an MP from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, Vladimir Djukanovic, suggested on Tuesday that Serbia should ignore the Hague court’s latest decision, calling it “idiotic”.
Visnja Sijacic from the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre argued that the Belgrade Higher Court ruling against extraditing the two Radicals was incorrect.
“Regarding the arrest warrant for Radeta and Jojic, the HLC considers that Serbia cannot point to its domestic legislation in order to justify non-compliance with its international obligations, which include full cooperation with [the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals],” Sijacic said.
She argued that in at least three identical cases involving contempt of court, there were no legal obstacles to arresting suspects and sending them to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY.
Sijacic cited the cases of Jelena Rasic, Dragomir Pecanac and Ljubisa Petkovic.
Petkovic was sentenced to four months in prison for contempt of court in the Seselj case, Pecanac was sentenced to three months in the case against former Bosnian Serb Army intelligence chief Zdravko Tolimir, while Rasic got a suspended sentence.
Jovana Spremo from the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights told BIRN that there were two reasons for the decision to move the proceedings back to The Hague, one of them being the witnesses’ claim they would not feel safe enough to give testimony in Serbia.
“And the second one reflects Serbia’s current stance towards the processing of war crimes in general,” Spremo said, arguing that the Belgrade authorities have made a series of unacceptable moves in their dealings with war criminals.
“Among them are the glorification of war criminals, giving them public space, and not respecting laws, as we have a convicted war criminal who still hasn’t been stripped of his MP’s mandate,” Spremo said, referring to Seselj, who has continued to sit in parliament despite his conviction last year.
Serbia’s witness protection procedures have been criticised in the past by a number of international institutions, including the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.
Concern have been expressed about witness protection in the Radicals’ case and in trials in Belgrade of Serbian ex-fighters accused of war crimes in Kosovo.
In 2012, the European Parliament noted “serious deficiencies in the functioning of the witness protection programme… [which] resulted in a number of witnesses voluntarily opting out of the programme after being systematically intimidated”.
The Council of Europe said in a 2011 report that inappropriate behaviour by Witness Protection Unit staff had resulted in witnesses changing their testimony or deciding not to testify at all.