The Hague Tribunal is releasing the Serbian ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj because he has cancer and his health is deteriorating, although his marathon trial is not yet over.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, on Thursday granted provisional release to Vojislav Seselj, who has been on trial for 11 years for war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia during the 1990s.
The ICTY said it was releasing the head of the Serbian Radical Party on humanitarian grounds, listing the serious deterioration to his health as one of the main reasons. He was diagnosed with cancer last year.
The court said Serbia had provided guarantees and the government of The Netherlands did not oppose the decision. The date of his expected arrival in Serbia has not been set.
The government of Serbia on Wednesday said it would provide the necessary guarantees for Seselj. “The security of the witnesses and the integrity of the proceedings [of his trial]will be guaranteed,” it said.
The government also promised that Seselj “will have no contact with witnesses or victims and that he will return to the Tribunal when ordered to do so”.
Zoran Krasic, a member of Seselj’s legal team, also said that it was not yet known when he would arrive in Serbia.
“Now it is a matter of procedure. The police of the two countries should now agree on the procedure of transporting Seselj from The Hague to Belgrade,” Krasic told BIRN.
Aleksandar Vulin, the Serbian minister for social welfare, alleged meanwhile that forces which he did not name were seeking to use Seselj’s arrival to stir up unrest.
“There are attempts to use the arrival of Seselj directly against [Prime Minister Aleksandar] Vucic and as something which will destabilise Serbia,” Vulin told Pink TV on Friday.
Vulin said however that “the “Serbian government provided the guarantees [for Seselj]the same second we were asked”.
Rasim Ljajic, the chief of the National Council for Cooperation with the ICTY, said that the decision to release Seselj was a way to end a trail that had gone on for too long.
“The motive for this decision is the Tribunal ‘s intention to end this situation it got itself into because of the inappropriately long trial in the Seselj case,” Ljajic told Radio B92 on Friday.
Milan Antonijevic, head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, YUCOM, also said that the Hague Tribunal should have acted sooner.
“Seselj was in prison without a verdict for so long, which is the reason why this decision should have been made earlier in order not to threaten the reputation of the Tribunal,” Antonijevic told BIRN.
Seselj has been in custody in The Netherlands since 2003, when he voluntarily surrendered to the UN-backed court. His verdict was scheduled for October last year, but was postponed after one of the judges in the trial was removed for alleged bias.
The new judge is expected to take until at least the end of June 2015 to familiarise himself with details of the case, causing yet another delay in the marathon trial.