vojislav šešelj.jpg
Photograph: HINA / TANJUG / Sava RADOVANOVIĆ / mm

The Majority of the Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on Thursday acquitted Vojislav Seselj on all counts and concluded that the plan to create a Greater Serbia was in principle a political plan, not a criminal one and that declaring the autonomy of Serb regions in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was not part of that plan.

"The majority is of the opinion that the Prosecution has given a very partial interpretation of the events it claims demonstrate the existence of a criminal plan for a Greater Serbia or for an entity known by a similar name. By depicting the establishment of Serbian autonomous regions in Croatia and BiH as actions that were part of the criminal plan for a Greater Serbia, without clarifying the broader context in which these actions were taken - namely the secession of both Croatia and BiH – the Prosecution gives an interpretation which, at best, hides the way events unfolded, and at worst distorts them in relation to the evidence presented to the Chamber, which was mainly Prosecution evidence," the Trial Chamber says in its summary of the judgement.

By mentioning the secession of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Trial Chamber seems not to have taken note of the Badinter Commission's opinion of 29 November 1991, which later served as the basis to recognise the independence of the former Yugoslav republics. According to the Commission's conclusions, the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia dissolved and the internal boundaries between the former republics were regarded as the new countries' frontiers in terms of public international law that that they may not be altered.

The summary of the judgement reads that the majority of the Trial Chamber believes that the plan to create a Greater Serbia was in principle a political plan rather than a criminal one and that the evidence presented does not indicate that the declaration of the autonomy of the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was a result of a criminal enterprise.

The Chamber considers that despite Seselj being driven "by an ardent political ambition to create a Greater Serbia", nothing indicates that there was a criminal purpose in sending volunteers. "There is a reasonable possibility that the sending of volunteers was aimed at protecting the Serbs," according to the summary.

The majority of the Chamber concluded that the deployment of volunteers did not constitute an unlawful activity.

"On the contrary, it could have been amply justified by the context of the war. The legal framework of the former Yugoslavia allowed resorting to volunteers. These were integrated into the armed forces of the SFRY, including the JNA and the TO. Moreover, the Chamber notes that Vojislav Seselj was not the hierarchical superior of the volunteers deployed on the ground," the summary notes.

The chamber also concluded that propaganda of a "nationalist" ideology is not in itself criminal.

With reference to Seselj's speeches in 1991 in Vukovar, when he said that "there will not be a single Ustasha left in this area," his speech in March 1992 in Mali Zvornik, when he called for revenge against the 'Balijas' (derogatory term for Muslims) and his other speeches in Croatia, the Chamber considers that these were meant to boost the morale of the troops of his camp.

"The majority, Judge Lattanzi dissenting, could not rule out the reasonable possibility that these speeches were made in a context of conflict and were meant to boost the morale of the troops of his camp, rather than calling upon them to spare no one," the summary says.

With regard to the expulsion of Croats from the town of Hrtkovci in Vojvodina, the Chamber finds by a majority, Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti dissenting, that Seselj's statements in a speech in Hrtkovci constituted a clear call for the expulsion or forcible transfer of Croats from this locality. Nevertheless, the majority, Judge Flavia Lattanzi dissenting, is of the view that the Prosecution failed to show that this speech caused the departure of the Croats or the campaign of persecution alleged by the Prosecution, the summary says.

Italian judge Flavia Lattanzi was outvoted two to one on most of the points of the indictment. She holds that Seselj is guilty on eight of the nine counts of the indictment.

The trial chamber concluded that the prosecution failed to prove the existence of a joint criminal enterprise headed by Slobodan Milosevic and aimed at expelling non-Serbs from parts of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina for the sake of creating a Greater Serbia.

This collaboration was aimed at "defending the Serbs and preserving Yugoslavia, not at committing the alleged crimes," presiding judge Antonetti said.

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