Lawyers and NGOs urged the Serbian parliament to call a halt to Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj’s term as an MP because he was convicted of wartime crimes by the UN court in The Hague.
Serbian lawyers and NGOs have argued that Seselj, who was sentenced to ten years in prison for crimes against humanity in Serbia, should be stripped of his mandate according to a law that says an MP’s term ends if he or she is sentenced to at least six months in jail.
Lawyer Katarina Golubovic from the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, YUCOM, said that Seselj’s term is automatically ended by the law and the relevant parliamentary board for administrative issues has to recognise that fact.
“After that, the report from the board has to be sent to parliament, which concludes [the end of Seselj’s mandate],” Golubovic told BIRN.
Serbian law clearly says that an MPs’ term ends if he or she given a non-suspended prison sentence of six months or more.
Seselj was convicted on appeal by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunal on Wednesday for inciting crimes with nationalist speeches he made in the Vojvodina region of Serbia during the war in 1992.
However, according to the law and the parliamentary rules of procedure, the MP has to personally file their resignation to the parliament.
The call to remove Seselj from parliament first came from the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, which campaigns against the participation of convicted war criminals in Serbian public life, among other things.
“Considering that… all verdicts of the Appeals Council of the MICT are legally binding for Serbia, Vojislav Seselj’s term as MP must end,” the YIHR said in a press release.
The president of the Bar Association of Belgrade, Vladimir Gajic, said that Seselj fulfils the requirements for automatic dismissal from the national assembly, and that the parliamentary board is obliged to conclude the same.
“Of course, one shouldn’t be naive, laws in Serbia do not apply to all citizens,” Gajic wrote on Twitter.
Golubovic warned that there is no sanction in place if the chairman of the parliamentary board in question, Aleksandar Martinovic, does not put the matter of Seselj’s mandate on the timetable.
Neither Seselj nor Martinovic were immediately available for comment.
However, members of the Serbian Radical Party have already rejected claims that Seselj’s mandate should end.
Radical Party MP Nemanja Sarovic said that there is no legal reason to take away the mandate, although he only offered a vague explanation.
“He is a free man and he ran and was elected MP as such,” Sarovic told the press in the Serbian parliament, Beta news agency reported.
Meanwhile the president of the Radical Party’s executive board, Vjerica Radeta, called the YIHR “traitors” on Twitter.
Radeta is also wanted by the Hague tribunal for contempt of court, after allegedly trying to bribe and blackmail witnesses in Seselj’s trial.
Although Seselj was sentenced to ten years in prison, he will not serve any jail time because of the years he spent in custody in The Hague after giving himself up in 2003.