Court overturns acquittal of Serbian war criminal Seselj

UN appeals judges on Wednesday found radical Serb Vojislav Seselj (his posters pictured) guilty of crimes against humanity, but the SRS party leader will not be put behind bars as he has already served his sentence.

At a hearing in The Hague, a five-member bench headed by Judge Theodor Meron reversed Seselj’s acquittals in 2016 for instigating persecution, deportation and other inhumane acts and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

But the bench noted that Seselj remains a free man as he has already served his sentence by spending 12 years in jail while facing trial at the former Yugoslav war crimes court.

Seselj was not present during Wednesday’s hearing as he refused to recognise the legality of the verdict.

During the eight-year trial, prosecutors had sought 28-year jail term for Seselj for instigating the murders of Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs between 1991 and 1993 in bloody conflicts that followed the fall of communism in Yugoslavia.

Prosecutors said Seselj instigated violence against non-Serbs through his speeches. They quoted one speech where he said rivers of blood would flow in Bosnia if anyone opposed his idea of Greater Serbia. In 1992, Seselj told Croats living in Hrtkovci village that they would be driven to the border of the Serbian territory and asked to leave.

Seselj denied the allegations and the former Yugoslav war crimes court found that he had made the remarks in a different context that does not warrant action against him.

A three-judge panel led by French judge Jean-Claude Antonetti ruled in 2016 that the prosecution had failed to provide sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges against the accused. The court acquitted Seselj in March the same year.

But the appeals judges on Wednesday found Seselj’s speech threatening to expel Croats “inflammatory”.

‘Law observed, not justice’

Wednesday’s ruling evoked mixed response from Bosnian war victims. The law was observed but there is no justice for the victims, said Bojan Glavasevic, a Croatian opposition MP, to N1 TV, BIRN reports.

Bakira Hasecic from the Women – Victims of War association said Seselj’s sentence was not severe enough adding that it excluded his responsibility for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Hague Tribunal prosecutors welcomed the ruling. They said it is important that the appeals chamber overturned Seselj’s acquittal and found him instigating war crimes through his speech in Hrtkovci .

Ivo Komsic, a former mayor of Sarajevo where Seselj was born, was upset that the MP was not jailed.