Šešelj decision unacceptable and intolerable: NPWJ and NRPTT call for an appeal to overcome glaring shortcomings

1 Apr, 2016 | Press Releases

Brussels – Rome, 1st April 2016

On Thursday, 31 March 2016, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) acquitted Vojislav Šešelj, President of the Serbian Radical Party and a former member of the Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, of all counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Mr Šešelj had been charged with three counts of crimes against humanity (persecution, deportation and the inhumane act of forcible transfer) and six counts of war crimes (murder, torture and cruel treatment, wanton destruction, destruction or wilful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion or education, plunder of public or private property). He was accused of having directly committed, incited, aided and abetted those crimes committed by Serbian forces from August 1991 until September 1993, and to have been part of their commission through his participation in a joint criminal enterprise.

Statement by Niccolò Figa-Talamanca, Secretary-General of No Peace Without Justice:

“It would be an understatement to say that No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) and the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty (NRPTT) are shocked by this latest decision from the ICTY. It flies in the face of established international law and prior decisions by international courts including the ICTY – not to mention flying in the face of common sense.

“The decision will require careful reading – but the summary alone describes several findings that defy belief. The most glaring of these is the majority finding that the Prosecution failed to establish there was a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population in large areas of Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina at the relevant time. We simply cannot understand how this is possible, given what we know about the facts on the ground and the case history of the ICTY itself. This kind of historical revision is quite simply unacceptable: the Trial Chamber asserted that their role is not to establish the entire truth about the events that occurred; this may be true, but their role is equally not to deny the truth.

“The real danger in this decision is, as pointed out by Judge Lattanzi in her dissenting opinion, that it sets aside all rules applicable in an armed conflict that existed before the ICTY was established, including the interpretation of those rules by the ICTY itself. It is as if the ICTY is suggesting that civilian leaders in particular can say whatever they want and have no consequences and no accountability for their actions. How can statements like “Very soon, there will not be a single Ustasha left in this area” or “We are going to expel the Croats … We are simply going to pack you into trucks and trains, and let you get on with it in Zagreb” not be considered a call for ethnic cleansing? And accepting that they were said, how is it possible to suggest that statements like these, made to volunteers recruited by Mr Šešelj who then went ahead and did just that, are not linked to the result? You don’t need to be the one holding the gun, or the one physically expelling people from the place where they live, to be criminally responsible for these kinds of acts. Yet this is exactly what the ICTY is suggesting – and that is simply wrong in law and in fact.

The only hope we have now lies with the ICTY Appeals Chamber, which itself has a chequered history when it comes to applying the principles of international humanitarian and criminal law. But these matters, and no doubt many others, cannot be allowed to rest with this Trial Chamber decision. One of the purposes of the ICTY is to deter crimes under international law. Allowing the Trial Chamber decision to be the authoritative voice on these issues would have the opposite effect: it would give carte blanche to every political leader the world over to incite crimes like this, then sit back and let others do the deed, safe in the knowledge that they will not be held accountable. That is not an acceptable or tolerable outcome – it simply cannot be allowed to happen.”

For further information, contact Alison Smith on asmith@npwj.org or +32-2-548 39 12 or Nicola Giovannini on ngiovannini@npwj.org or +32-2-548-3915.