Serbia Vojislav Seselj acquitted of Balkan war crimes

Serbian ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj has been found not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

The UN war court at The Hague said he had neither borne individual responsibility for the crimes, nor known about them nor endorsed them.

Mr Seselj had denied the charges. In his first reaction, he said the court had reached the only verdict possible.

But Croatia’s prime minister condemned the verdict as shameful.

The UN tribunal’s prosecutor Serge Brammertz said his office would decide later whether to appeal.

“I’m absolutely convinced that the victims’ communities and many people will not be satisfied with this outcome,” Mr Brammertz said.

Mr Seselj was allowed to go to Belgrade in 2014 after being diagnosed with cancer and was not present in the courtroom.

He had even refused the tribunal’s offer to follow the verdict by video link

He has been taking part in anti-government rallies ahead of Serbian parliamentary elections in April.

Mr Seselj was a close ally of the late Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic. He served as Serbian deputy prime minister from 1998 to 2000.

He surrendered to the UN court (the ICTY) voluntarily in 2003. When the ICTY sought to appoint a defence lawyer against his wishes, he went on hunger strike.

The indictment charged him with three counts of crimes against humanity and six of war crimes for inciting ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia and the Serbian province of Vojvodina between  August 1991and September 1993.

On the most serious charge of crimes against humanity, presiding Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that there was a widespread and systematic attack against the non-Serb civilian population in large areas of Croatia and Bosnia.

“The evidence tendered and considered establishes instead that there was an armed conflict between enemy military forces with civilian components,” he said.

Prosecutors had argued Mr Seselj was criminally responsible for the murder, torture and deportation of non-Serbs as part of his project to create a Greater Serbia.

They had accused him of raising an army of volunteers who committed unspeakable crimes.

But the trial chamber found that there was no criminal purpose in sending volunteers  and, moreover, they had not been under Mr Seselj’s command.

“The majority simply notes that it is not satisfied that the recruitment and subsequent deployment of volunteers implies that Vojislav Seselj knew of these crimes on the ground, or that he instructed or endorsed them,” it said.

The verdict also concluded that the Greater Serbia plan Mr Seselj had supported was not a criminal, but political project.

Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic criticised the outcome as a defeat for the Hague tribunal and the prosecution.

Mr Seselj had consistently berated the tribunal, challenging its legitimacy and regretting the fact that it could not pass a death sentence on him.

On Thursday, he said he wanted 14m euros (£11m; $16m) in compensation against the UN tribunal.

In 2014, the court decided to release him for treatment. Serbian doctors said at the time that he was suffering from cancer of the colon, which had spread to his liver.

Radovan Karadzic was the most senior former Bosnian Serb to be convicted

Since its establishment, the ICTY has indicted 161 persons.

Last week, it convicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic of genocide and war crimes in the war in Bosnia. He was sentenced to 40 years in jail.

Gen Ratko Mladic, who commanded Bosnian Serb forces, is also awaiting his verdict at The Hague.

BBC