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Seselj's War Crimes Trial Suspended

Associated Press
February 11, 2009

Judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) suspended indefinitely the trial of Serbian ultra-nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj on Wednesday (February 11th), citing witness safety concerns. "A majority of judges decided that the remaining testimony of about ten witnesses not be heard at the moment because it would not be possible to guarantee ... their security," ICTY spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic told AFP. Judges also believe the witnesses might be reluctant to give complete testimony if they fear for their own safety.

The UN tribunal's three-member Trial Chamber, presided over by Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti, decided also that the hearings will resume once appropriate conditions are in place. The ruling came in response to a motion by UN prosecutors on January 15th, demanding the immediate adjournment of proceedings in Seselj's case. There is "clear and convincing evidence that going forward will compromise the integrity and fairness of the proceedings," Prosecutor Daryl Mundis told the court. Seselj, 54, surrendered to The Hague tribunal in February 2003 about ten days after UN prosecutors indicted him for war crimes committed in Croatia, Vojvodina and Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1991 to 1993. On January 21st, the ICTY judges granted the prosecution's request for additional charges against Seselj of contempt of court for disclosing the identities of three protected witnesses in a book he wrote. The trial of the leader of the Serbian Radical Party opened in 2006, only to be suspended almost immediately after he began a hunger strike. Court proceedings eventually resumed in November 2007 after Seselj gained permission to defend himself. During the past 15 months, prosecutors have filed other complaints regarding witness intimidation. So far, 71 prosecution witnesses have testified in court. The prosecution has only seven hours of testimony left, the AP reported.

Reading out only parts of the Trial Chamber's decision on Wednesday, Antonetti, who opposed the suspension of the trial, said one more prosecution witness would testify next week before adjournment. He also advised Seselj to appeal the chamber's decision, claiming it violated his right to an expeditious trial. Wednesday's ruling, however, noted that ensuring a fair trial is far more important for both sides than the need for a speedy trial. Claiming that prosecutors have failed to prove their case against him thus far, Seselj accused them of trying to "hamper" the completion of his trial in a "natural and fair" manner. He could receive a maximum life sentence if convicted on the war crimes charges he faces, as well as up to seven years in prison and/or a fine of up to 100,000 euros if judges find him guilty of contempt of court.

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