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UN war crimes tribunal jails Serb leader for third time over contempt of court

Courtroom 1 of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Courtroom 1 of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

UN war crimes tribunal jails Serb leader for third time over contempt of court

The United Nations war crimes tribunal set up in the wake of the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s today sentenced a leader of the Serb Radical Party – already facing trial on charges of crimes against humanity – to two years imprisonment for failure to remove confidential information from his website, in violation of the court’s orders.

Vojislav Šešelj is on trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between 1991 and 1994, against the non-Serb population from large parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Vojvodina, Serbia.

On his website, Mr. Šešelj published four of his books and six confidential filings which reveal confidential information about a number of protected witnesses who testified in his main trial before the Tribunal for alleged war crimes.

“Non-compliance with such orders is a serious matter, which not only interferes with the administration of justice but risks undermining public confidence in the Tribunal and, thereby, the effectiveness of its judicial function, including its ability to grant effective protective measures where necessary,” said the presiding judge, Stefan Trechsel, said in a news release.

According to the ICTY, Mr. Šešelj was in position to remove the information from his website, but failed to so despite repeated orders, and had explicitly stated that he did not intend to comply with the order to remove on of his books in particular.

This was the ICTY’s third contempt trial against Mr. Šešelj. He was first convicted to 15 months of imprisonment on 19 May 2010 for disclosing the personal details of protected witnesses in a book he authored, and subsequently to 18 additional months for the same reason in a different book. Both books were among those at issue in the third contempt case.

“The repetitious nature of his conduct is demonstrated by his continuing refusal to obey the orders requiring him to remove confidential material which he has disclosed on many occasions over the course of several years,” the Tribunal said. “This flagrant disregard for Chambers orders amounts to a direct attack upon the judicial authority of the Tribunal.”

The ICTY – which sits in The Hague in the Netherlands – also dismissed today Radovan Karadžic’s oral motion for acquittal on 10 counts of the indictment against him, but granted his motion in relation to count one of the indictment, in which he was charged with genocide for crimes committed between March and December 1992 in several municipalities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mr. Karadžic, a former Bosnian Serb leader, was charged by the prosecution with 11 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity including murder, extermination, persecution, deportation and hostage taking, related to actions against Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995.

He was indicted in July 1995 and was transferred into the Tribunal’s custody in July 2008, after more than 13 years spent evading arrest. The trial began in October 2009, and his defence team is scheduled to present its case on 16 October this year.

Since its establishment, the Tribunal has indicted 161 persons for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001. Proceedings against 126 have been concluded and proceedings are currently ongoing for 35 accused.