Serb awaiting trial in the Hague for ethnic cleansing during 1990s Balkans wars, ends month-long hunger strike

The UN News Centre [the UN uses British English spellings] reports that “The Serbian politician who has been on a hunger strike for almost a month as he awaits trial before the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia announced today that he will resume eating and accept medical treatment now that the court has reversed an earlier decision concerning his counsel.  Vojislav Å eÅ¡elj informed the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) that he made his decision after the Tribunal’s appeals chamber earlier today set aside a ruling from its trial chamber imposing standby counsel on him, and its registry made commitments to facilitate many of his requests about the conduct of his defence.  The trial of Mr. Å eÅ¡elj, who faces charges over his role in an ethnic cleansing campaign during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, has been suspended by the Tribunal until he is fit enough to participate fully in the proceedings as a self-represented accused.  The ICTY, which sits in The Hague, said in a press statement that its doctor had begun an examination of Mr. Å eÅ¡elj to assess his condition and what immediate steps are necessary to safeguard his health.  Although he continued to drink water, Mr. Å eÅ¡elj had declined food and medical care since 11 November. The ICTY warned this week that it held grave concerns about his deteriorating health.”

Doctors who examined the Hague prisoner earlier this week reportedly said that he could die in two weeks, if he continued his hunger strike. 

The UN News Centre noted that “The president of the Serbian Radical Party, Mr. Å eÅ¡elj faces charges of crimes against humanity and others relating to the persecutions of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb people and their expulsions from area of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Vojvodina region of Serbia, between August 1991 and September 1993.  Prosecutors allege Mr. Å eÅ¡elj participated in a joint criminal enterprise with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, among others, that led to the extermination and expulsion of non-Serb people.”

Mr. Milosevic died earlier this year (in March 2006) while on trial in the Hague, disappointing many who wanted to see a court decision on his responsibility for war crimes throughout the former Yugoslavia.

The UN News Center added that “In granting Mr. Å eÅ¡elj’s appeal, the ICTY appeals chamber found that the trial chamber had abused its discretion by ordering standby counsel without first establishing additional obstructionist behaviour by the accused that would warrant such an intervention.   That move meant Mr. Å eÅ¡elj was not given a real opportunity to show that, despite his conduct during the pre-trial period, he now understood that to be permitted to conduct his own defence he would have to comply with the ICTY’s rules of evidence and procedure and was willing to do so.   If Mr. Å eÅ¡elj again behaves in an obstructionist way, jeopardizing the likelihood of a fair and expeditious trial, and the trial chamber considers standby counsel should again be imposed, the appeals chamber said a list of such counsel should first be provided to Mr. Å eÅ¡elj and he should be allowed to select a lawyer from that list.” http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=20900&Cr=icty&Cr1=  

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the War Crimes Tribunal, Refik Hodžic, told journalists in the Hague that Vojislav Šešelj – who faces charges over his role in an ethnic cleansing campaign during the Balkan wars of the 1990s – has legal avenues open to pursue any of his requests or complaints about the Tribunal.

Mr. Hodžic said that “the only way for him [Vojislav Šešelj ] to address the issue of self-representation is through the courtroom, through him taking part in the court process,” noting that the 52-year-old accused began his hunger strike while he was representing himself.

Last week, ICTY judges assigned defence counsel to the accused, saying he had persistently obstructed the proper conduct of the trial since resuming self-representation in late October.

“But he has also made other less publicized demands, such as that the Tribunal approach a foreign State in order to unfreeze assets he holds in overseas bank accounts,” according to another story from the UN News Centre.

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