Šešelj in Meron's legal soap opera

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. In view of the recent release of Vojislav Šešelj from the detention unit in Scheveningen prisonIFIMES has analysed the background and consequences of his release. The most relevant sections from the analysis entitled “Šešelj in Meron's legal soap opera” are published below.


Šešelj in Meron's legal soap opera


President of Serbian Radical Party (SRS) Vojislav Šešelj[1] was provisionally released by the order[2]of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The decision on his release was not adopted unanimously[3]. In the West Balkans and broader region it triggered numerous public and secret reactions and debates, national activities and press releases as well as speculations, suspicions and conspiracy theories, notably due to the legal shortfalls of the ICTY order. The order to release Vojislav Šešelj differs from all previous decisions taken by ICTY on early release of defendants. Having allowed war crimes suspect Šešelj to freely pursue public and political activities in the territory of Serbia, ICTY has directly undermined the fundamental postulates from the UN Security Council Resolution[4] as well the basic reasons for the establishment of ICTY by the United Nations.



The Republic of Croatia has initiated a series of mechanisms, and its highest officials including Croatia's President Ivo Josipović and Prime Minister Zoran  Milanović issued special press releases to point to the legal shortfalls of the decision on Šešelj's release and to warn of the possible effects of Šešelj's activities on the political and security (in)stability in the West Balkans. Besides having initiated the procedures in EU bodies President Josipović has directly addressed ICTY President Theodor Meron[5]. The question is why official Zagreb reacted to Šešelj's early release while it never responded to the acquittal judgement passed by ICTY Appeals Chamber for General Momčilo Perišić, former Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army, who was accused of the shelling of Zagreb[6]. ICTY Trial Chamber had sentenced Perišić to 27 years of imprisonment for war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. It should also be noted that official Zagreb never reacted to the Trial Chamber's acquittals of Jovica Stanišić and Frenki Simatović, chief officials of Milosevic's security service and the Yugoslav regime who were accused of systematic war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia[7]. Croatia is currently pursuing the proceedings before the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Serbia for the genocide committed in Croatia. It was expected that after the releases of Momčilo Perišić, Jovica Stanišić and Frenki Simatović Croatia would launch institutional procedures in order to improve its position in the dispute with Serbia – after all Šešelj is not to be compared with Slobodan Milošević nor with Jovica Stanišić or Momčilo Perišić.


Analysts have noted that presidential election campaign is running in Croatia and that the decision to release Šešelj has served as “political ammunition” for the receding Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP Croatia).


Another question is why Ivo Josipović, a doctor of laws, wrote to ICTY President Theodor Meron who has actually caused all the critical events in ICTY, including those in the Šešelj case. In the latter case Meron made use of Šešelj's request to disqualify Danish judge Frederik Harhoff in order to remove him unscrupulously from the trial, thus indefinitely postponing the legal agony in the Šešelj case. Judge Harhoff had namely publicly recognised that ICTY judgements are passed under political pressure asserted by the leading states. Having removed judge Harhoff from the Šešelj case and from ICTY in general, it was therefore Meron who postponed the passing of the final judgement on Vojislav Šešelj. Ivo Josipović is certainly aware that Meron also passed the acquittal judgement for General Ante Gotovina and that ICTY was actually founded by UN Security Council and not by the EU. It is therefore surprising that Josipović wrote a letter to Meron and EU institutions rather to UN Security Council and Secretary-General. It remains to be seen whether this represents a pressure on the EU and Theodor Meron, bearing in mind the forthcoming Appeals Chamber decision on Jadranko Prlić and his five co-defendants[8]. Symptomatically, debates on the work of ICTY are initiated just before significant judgements are to be handed down. We should not forget that acquittal judgements for Perišić, Stanišić and Simatović were taken after the debate in the UN – initiated by Vuk Jeremić who presided the UN General Assembly – following the acquittal of Ante Gotovina for war crimes committed during the military operation called “the Storm” (Oluja). The debate was participated by Croatian representatives as well as state officials from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who thus confirmed the legitimacy of Jeremić's disputable conference in the UN and subsequent events in ICTY.




An impression is being created that ICTY managed to manipulate Serbian government by requesting it several times to provide guarantees and then within a few hours – without having consulted Šešelj, ICTY Prosecutor or Serbian government – passing the decision to release Šešelj without any restraining conditions. Political disputes between Serbia and Croatia regarding Šešelj actually serve  Aleksandar Vučić's Government in the situation when Šešelj has announced to “revenge” and organise gatherings all over Serbia. Using the situation in the Šešelj case Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić called for  closing down ICTY, which corresponds to continued activities to point to the situations in ICTY that could lead to its closing down in order to prevent judgements to be taken by the Trial Chamber on Karadžić and Mladić as well as by the Appeals Chamber in, notably, the Prlić et al. case and on Stanišić and Simatović, or to endlessly postpone those processes. Šešelj's release from Scheveningen prison and allowing him to freely pursue political activities in Serbia obviously represent another action of Western forces against Serbia's government, especially following the events in Ukraine and Serbia's intensive relations with Russia and Putin's politics. Serbia's “schizophrenic” foreign policy based on the four pillars comprised of Russia, the EU, the US and China has been defeated and is now showing a boomerang effect. Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is frantically struggling to preserve its internal unity despite certain hints pointing to schism between Aleksandar Vučić and Tomislav Nikolić. Šešelj's arrival overlaps with SNS internal scrambles. Military cooperation between Serbia and Russia during the Ukraine crisis and the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Serbia have definitely marked Serbia as a part of the problem for the West. The country is again facing a challenge regarding Serbs living outside Serbia. If the incumbent Serbian government wants to divert public attention away from the numerous accumulated and almost unsolvable internal problems, it can once again open the question of Serbian nationals living in the neighbouring countries such as Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia.



The only  official reaction from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Šešelj's early release has been seen from the victims of crimes who, unlike Josipović, sent their letters to various addresses in the UN, including that of Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers at UN/OHCHR Gabriela Knaul. According to available information the victims from Bosnia and Herzegovina also addressed Theodor Meron, directly accusing him for the situation regarding the early release of Vojislav Šešelj. Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently preoccupied with post-election coalition and government formation, so Šešelj's early release has not triggered any significant reaction except from the statement by Bosniak member of BH Presidency Bakir Izetbegović who noted that Šešelj represents a danger for Serbia itself and that his appearance will lead to dealing with the radicals in Serbia. Only Milorad Dodik stood up for Šešelj. It is interesting to note that both Milorad Dodik and Momčilo Perišić avoided being held responsible for the shelling of Zagreb in May 1995 and that the chief State Attorney of the Republic of Croatia Mladen Bajić in co-operation with State Attorney's Office in Zagreb concluded in 2014 that there are no supporting elements to open an investigation against Dodik, although at meetings of Republika Srpska National Assembly in May 1995 he publicly supported rocket attacks on Croatian towns[9]. Similarly, for almost a decade the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been obstructing the realisation of ICTY investigations in which over 90% of suspects are Serbian nationals from Republika Srpska including crimes committed by Šešelj's chetnics. The investigations that have been delegated to the BH Prosecutor's Office also include the names of two Bosniaks: Sakib Mahmuljin, former commander of the 3rd Corps of the BH Army and former Defence Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Halid Čengić, main logistics expert in the BH Army.


Although the international community is dissatisfied with the work carried out by the  Chief Prosecutor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it should be noted that this institution receives main support from Republika Srpska, so that all its serious activities are carried out against Bosniak and Croatian officials in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina  while the Prosecutor's Office together with the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), each for their own reasons, avoid carrying out any activities that might threaten Milorad Dodik's empire in Republika Srpska.



Theodor Meron's visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina when the country marks its Statehood Day is merely a coincidence, bearing in mind everything this former Israeli diplomat and long-standing President of ICTY has done to generate mistrust in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region towards the international justice system. The letter sent by Croatian President Josipović to Meron and the latter's answer to Josipović are nothing but a legal soap opera that will not solve the Šešelj case but may have implications for the appeal procedure in the Prlić et al. case. When ICTY 20th anniversary was marked in Sarajevo with events organised by Theodor Meron, the Bosnian politics for the first time publicly expressed its attitude on the work of ICTY through Bakir Izetbegović who stated that there are two periods in the work of ICTY, the fist period which was positive and the second one which was negative. The negative period started among other when Theodor Meron became ICTY's President.


The activities of ICTY and international community are deeply interwoven. For Bosnia and Herzegovina it is of vital importance that Turkey supports ICTY's work, and that Turkey's support to Bosnia and Herzegovina has always been directed towards the country's accession to NATO and EU, whereby co-operation with ICTY represents one of the preconditions for Euro-Atlantic integration. A discussion on the work of ICTY is expected to take place in UN Security Council in December 2014. For almost two years ICTY Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz has delivered negative assessments on the work of the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina to UN Security Council, which is a political slap in the face of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nevertheless, according to our information lobbying is already taking place in certain circles with the aim to draw up – through BH Ministry of Foreign Affairs – a positive report on the work of the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Certain lobbyists are also trying convince BH Presidency and Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations to present an assessment to the UN Security Council that would be completely contradicting to Serge Brammertz' report, but this will only further aggravate the position of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ljubljana, November 28, 2014    

[1] http://www.icty.org/x/cases/seselj/cis/en/cis_seselj_en.pdf


[2] http://www.icty.org/x/cases/seselj/tord/en/141106.pdf


[3] http://www.icty.org/x/cases/seselj/tord/en/141111.pdf


[4] http://www.icty.org/x/file/Legal%20Library/Statute/statute_827_1993_en.pdf


[5] http://www.ifimes.org/en/8603-ictymeronization-of-our-future




[6]  http://www.icty.org/x/cases/perisic/ind/en/per-sai080205e.pdf


[7]   http://www.icty.org/x/cases/stanisic_simatovic/ind/en/staj-in3rdamd080710.pdf


[8]  http://www.icty.org/case/prlic/4


[9]   http://www.ifimes.org/en/8449-why-wouldnt-the-republic-of-croatia-prosecute-milorad-dodik