Paragraph 175 of the Appeals Chamber, The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), dated 11 April 2018 found the Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj guilty of crimes against humanity in relation to his public speeches actions targeting persecution and forcible deportation of Croatians living in Vojvodina province in Serbia. Seselj did not attend the hearing but remained in Serbia where he was in 2014 released to from The Hague on grounds of a terminal illness.
The judgement states:
“The Appeals Chamber has found that, on the basis of his 6 May 1992 speech in Hrtkovci, Vojvodina, Seselj is criminally responsible and therefore guilty, pursuant to Article 1 of the Mechanism’s Statute and Articles 5(d), 5(h), 5(i) and 7(1) of the ICTY Statute for instigating. deportation, persecution (forcible displacement), and other inhumane acts (forcible transfer) as crimes against humanity and for committing persecution (violation of the right to security) as a crime against humanity. Accordingly, the Appeals Chamber must consider an appropriate sentence.”
All other grounds of Prosecution’s Appeal against Seselj, which include indictments for alleged criminal acts on the territory of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were overturned. Seselj was accused of committing the crimes against non-Serbs in Croatia, Serbia’s Vojvodina region, and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Balkan wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and killed some 130,000 people. The alleged crimes included persecution on political, racial, or religious grounds, deportation, murder, and torture.
Regardless of details in findings entailed in the said judgement and given the Serbian aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – where Serb’s sought to claim territory via ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs and other crimes against humanity – the clearing of Seselj’s speeches of guilt for crimes in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina one needs to express disbelief and shock in the apparent MICT Appeals Chamber’s failure to assess the real, the general and cross-border impact of Seselj’s inciting and hateful speeches against non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Certainly, the MICT Appeal Chamber judgement leads to the conclusion that there is no doubt that Seselj’s speeches encouraged and led other Serbs to commit crimes against non-Serbs and the reality of the times was that wherever Serbs lived, Serbs considered that land to be Serbia and Serbs taking part in the brutal aggression across former Yugoslavia heard and heeded his speeches, acting violently accordingly! No doubt about that in my or any other reasonable mind.
MICT sentenced Seselj to 10 years in prison but ruling that he has already served that time because of the time he had spent in custody in The Hague. Seselj, who was extradited in 2003 and served nearly 12 years in pre-trial detention in The Hague but returned to Serbia in 2014 on medical grounds.
During the period of his detention in The Hague, Seselj was found guilty of contempt of court on three separate occasions and was sentenced to 15 months, 18 months, and 2 years of imprisonment, respectively, and the ICTY Appeals Chamber recognized this as time served. In paragraph 177 of the said judgement says “Nothing in ICTY/MICT provision or the jurisprudence suggests that the contempt sentences should be subtracted from the time that Seselj spent in pre-trial detention. The fact remains that, whether Seselj was convicted of contempt or not, he was still subject to detention by virtue of the charges against him in his main trial. There is nothing in the contempt judgements to suggest that the contempt sentences should not be served concurrently to any main sentence.”
This would suggest that while omitting to state it explicitly (as is usually the case with sentencing) in the sentencing part of the judgement, the MICT Appeal Chamber has decided to lumber Seselj’s sentences amounting to 12 years 9 months into one lot of 10 years i.e. granting Seselj concurrent serving of all four sentences (three for contempt of court and one for crimes against humanity). It would seem that a consideration of consecutive serving of sentences was not a leading element in the courts deliberations; hence Seselj was not required to return to The Hague. It stares one in the eye that MICT has left a loose end in this and that clarification for public interest and for justice to be seen to have been done regarding the concurrent versus consecutive serving of sentences is needed.
“The Ministry also welcomes the important finding of the Mechanism regarding the existence of a systematic and widespread attack against the non-Serbian civilian population, in which Vojislav Šešelj also participated, as a confirmation of planned criminal activity aimed at creating ‘Greater Serbia’. At the same time, the Ministry considers the pronounced sentence to be far too mild with respect to the acts committed and their consequences.
The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, however, expresses its regret that the Appeals Chamber failed to find Vojislav Šešelj responsible for committing and being involved in committing the gravest crimes against humanity and war crimes during the aggression against the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina through his criminal activity in their territory (especially Vukovar). The Ministry also expresses its regrets that the Appeals Chamber failed to find Vojislav Šešelj responsible for participating in the joint criminal enterprise aimed at permanently removing the non-Serbian population, primarily Croats and Bosniaks, from the areas that the then Serbian political and military leadership considered to be Serbian.
As one of the main advocates of the idea of ‘Greater Serbia’, with the western border Virovitica-Karlovac-Karlobag, Vojislav Šešelj, through his inflammatory and barbaric rhetoric, motivated and instigated his volunteers, as well as other Serbian troops to the persecution and killing of Croats and Bosniaks.”
The reasoning and sentiments flowing from this statement appear widespread across the globe particularly in those who lived and suffered the ugly truth of the fatal and brutal effects Seselj’s (and other Serb leaders’ at the time) had on inciting vicious crimes against Croats and other non-Serbs in Croatia and Croats and Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina – throwing those victims into the absolute need for defence and self-preservation.
The unrepentant Serbian Radical Party leader, Seselj, has stuck to his Serb nationalist line, telling news agency AFP last week he will never give up the idea of a “Greater Serbia”, uniting all parts of Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia where Serbs live.
In comments made to the AP news agency after the ruling, Seselj said he was “proud of all the war crimes and crimes against humanity that were attributed to me, and I am ready to repeat them in the future.”
Seselj’s disturbing statements do clearly demonstrate the abhorrent determination in the Serb aggression to destroy the Croatian and non-Serb population domiciled in the areas of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia over which Serbs pursued forceful control. As can be concluded from Seselj’s reactions to the MICT judgement the frightening fact persists in today’s times, and that in itself has implications that leave Croats at constant guard for their safety and independence on their own territory.