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UN Court Partially Overturns Serbian Nationalist Seselj's Acquittal


Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj

A United Nations court has partially overturned Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj’s acquittal on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sentencing him to 10 years in prison but ruling that he has already served that time.

The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) said on April 11 that Seselj had already served the sentence because of the time he had spent in custody in The Hague.

Seselj, who was extradited in 2003 and served nearly 12 years in pretrial detention in The Hague but returned to Serbia in 2014 on medical grounds, was not present when the court in the Dutch city delivered its judgment. He also snubbed the appeals hearing in December 2017.

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 said prosecutors "lied that there were systematic attacks" on Croats in Serbia in the 1990s. Prosecutors have said a speech by Seselj in May 1992 incited crimes against Croats.

Amnesty International welcomed the verdict against Seselj, saying his conviction delivers long overdue justice to the victims of the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s.

Amnesty International's Europe Director Gauri van Gulik said that "despite the fact that the Appeals Chamber cleared Vojislav Seselj of other war crimes, it is significant that it found there was indeed a widespread or systematic attack against the non-Serbian civilian population in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina."

UN prosecutors had asked the court to find Seselj guilty on three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of violations of the laws or customs of war and sentence him to 28 years in prison -- or order a new trial.

Seselj is 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 include persecution on political, racial, or religious grounds, deportation, murder, and torture.

Seselj, a 63-year-old member of parliament with his Serbian Radical Party, denies the charges.

In a controversial 2-1 split vote in March 2016, judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) acquitted Seselj of all charges. The MICT is wrapping up the last cases after the ICTY closed in December.

The panel said prosecutors had "failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt" or provide sufficient evidence that Seselj was responsible for the crimes he had been charged with.

One of the three judges dissented, saying the acquittals ignored international law and the tribunal's jurisprudence.

The prosecution appealed the acquittal, saying judges ignored a large body of evidence when they freed the defendant.

The court's chief prosecutor called the decision a "fundamental failure by the majority [of judges] to perform its judicial function."

With reporting by AFP
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