Serb war crimes defendant ends hunger strike after ICTY reversal

[JURIST]top story War crimes defendant Vojislav Seselj [BBC profile; ICTY case backgrounder] agreed to end his nearly month-long hunger strike [JURIST report] Friday after an appeals chamber at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [official website] ruled that Seselj could represent himself during trial. Last month, the ICTY stripped Seselj of his right to defend himself [JURIST report] after he failed to appear in court, despite an earlier appeals court ruling that he could represent himself [JURIST report] provided he not engage in courtroom antics that "substantially obstruct the proper and expeditious proceedings in his case."

In a ruling [PDF text; press release] Friday:

The Appeals Chamber ruled that all trial proceedings in this case following the order of the Trial Chamber directing the Registry to appoint standby counsel are set aside. The trial of Seselj is suspended until such time as he is fit enough to fully participate in the proceeding as a self-represented accused.

In addressing Seselj's appeal, the Appeals Chamber found that, while appreciating the efforts of the Trial Chamber to ensure the fair and expeditious conduct of this trial, the Trial Chamber abused its discretion by immediately ordering the imposition of standby counsel, without first establishing additional obstructionist behaviour on the part of Seselj warranting that imposition. By so doing, the Trial Chamber failed to give Seselj a real opportunity to show to the Trial Chamber that despite his conduct in pre-trial, and the conduct leading up to the imposition of assigned counsel, he now understood that in order to be permitted to conduct his defence, he would have to comply with the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Tribunal and that he was willing to do so. It was this opportunity that the Appeals Chamber Decision intended to accord to Seselj.

The Appeals Chamber reversed the Impugned Decision assigning counsel to Seselj and directed the Trial Chamber not to impose standby counsel unless Seselj exhibits obstructionist behaviour fully satisfying the Trial Chamber that, in order to ensure a fair and expeditious trial, Seselj requires the assistance of standby counsel. The Appeals Chamber ruled that, should a time come when the Trial Chamber felt justified in making such a decision, the Rule 44 list of Counsel should initially be provided to Seselj and he should be permitted to select standby counsel from that list. The Appeals Chamber placed similar conditions of restraint on the exercise by the Trial Chamber of its discretion to impose assigned counsel in the future should Seselj fail to abide by the Tribunal's Rules of Procedure and Evidence as a self-represented accused and behave in a way that persistently obstructs the proceedings.
The ICTY Registry has also agreed to "facilitate" several of Seselj's other demands [statement, DOC]. When Seselj began his hunger strike on November 11, in addition to demanding that he be allowed to represent himself, he also asked that all court documents be delivered to him in paper rather than electronic form and that the court permit his wife to visit him in prison.

Seselj [JURIST news archive] is accused of establishing rogue paramilitary units affiliated with the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) [party website, in Serbian], which are believed to have massacred and otherwise persecuted Croats and other non-Serbs in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Seselj has pleaded not guilty to the charges. The appeals court said Friday that his trial should not begin "until such time as he is fully able to participate in the proceeding as a self-represented accused."


 

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