Hague Court Sends Serbian Radicals’ Case to Belgrade for Trial

4. March 2024.12:40
The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague has sent the contempt of court case against ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj and four co-accused to the Serbian judiciary for trial in Belgrade.

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Vojsilav Seselj. Foto: EPA/KOCA SULEJMANOVIC

The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals has ordered the case against Vojislav Seselj, Miljan Damjanovic, Miroljub Ignjatovic and Ljiljana and Ognjen Mihajlovic, who are charged with contempt of the Hague-based court, should be transferred to the Serbian prosecution for trial as soon as possible.

Hague judge Liu Daqun stated that in August 2023 he confirmed the indictment charging Seselj, Damjanovic, Ignjatovic and Ljiljana and Ognjen Mihajlovic with having “knowingly and wilfully interfered with the administration of justice; disclosed information in violation of court orders, including orders for the protection of witnesses; and failed to comply, without just excuse, with court orders to cease and desist from the publication of confidential information”.

The case against ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party leader Seselj and his followers relates to his 15-year trial in The Hague for wartime crimes.

Seselj was convicted by the UN tribunal in April 2018 of inciting crimes with his wartime speeches. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, but did not serve any jail time because of the time he spent in custody prior to the verdict.

The accused in his contempt of court case allegedly published materials revealing details about prosecution witnesses in the case.

According to Hague judge Daqun’s decision, dated February 29, Serbia has confirmed that all the necessary legal conditions exist for the transfer of the case from the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. The decision also noted that the accused live in Serbia.

“According to Serbia, if the case were to be forwarded, the War Crimes Prosecution would lead the proceedings before the Higher Court in Belgrade in the first instance, and the Court of Appeal in Belgrade in the second instance,” it said.

“The defendants believe that the case should be forwarded to Serbia, that they will appear before the competent domestic authorities when they are summoned, and that conducting the proceedings in Serbia is in the interests of expediency, fairness and efficiency,” it added.

However, the decision noted that the Hague prosecution claims that Serbia has “not sufficiently demonstrated that it has an adequate legal framework” to try Seselj.

The prosecution told the tribunal that it mostly managed to obtain Serbia’s cooperation during the investigation, “albeit with significant delays”.

But because of the Belgrade authorities’ “lack of compliance” with earlier orders issued by the tribunal, the prosecution argued that “Serbia should demonstrate that it can bring this case to trial and complete it in a timely manner” before it is transferred.

Seselj has been charged with contempt of court several times by the Hague-based tribunal. In 2011, he was convicted of revealing information about witnesses in a book he authored.

In 2012, he and Radical Party colleagues Vjerica Radeta and Petar Jojic were charged with pressurising witnesses in his trial using threats, blackmail and bribes to change their statements or not testify. The case is still ongoing in The Hague after the tribunal declined to transfer the proceedings to Serbia.

Seselj’s Radical Party still contests elections in Serbia, although it failed to win any seats in parliament at the December 2023 polls.

Lamija Grebo

This post is also available in: Bosnian