Serb nationalist leader acquitted of crimes in Balkan wars

Serbian ultra-nationalist political leader Vojislav Seselj cleared of war crimes and crimes against humanity

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

Serbian ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj attends his trial at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Serbian ultra-nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj has been found not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Judges for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia delivered their verdict on Thursday and acquitted Seselj of the charges.

Prosecutors had accused Seselj of stoking murderous ethnic tension with his fiery rhetoric at the outset of the 1990s wars that followed the collapse of federal Yugoslavia into seven successor states, a process that cost 130,000 lives.

"With this acquittal on all the nine counts of the indictment the arrest warrant issued by the appeals chamber is rendered moot," said presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti.

"Vojislav Seselj is now a free man."

After the acquittal, Seselj said that the decision was the only possible verdict the court could have reached.

"This time after so many trials of innocent Serbs, the judges ... from the legal aspect returned the only possible verdict," the nationalist politician told a news conference in Belgrade.

He said he had previously filed a 12 million euro ($13.6 million) compensation claim against the UN tribunal in The Hague and he might now ask for an extra two million euros for "all the suffering I have been through."

‘Shameful verdict’

Croatia's Prime Minister on Thursday slammed the "shameful" acquittal of Seselj by UN judges over nine charges arising from the 1990s Balkan wars.

"The verdict is shameful. It is the defeat of The Hague court and the prosecution," Tihomir Oreskovic told reporters after the shock ruling from the ICTY.

"He is a man... who committed evil and did not show any remorse, neither then nor today," Oreskovic said.

Prosecutors had alleged Seselj was behind the murder of many Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb civilians, as well as the forced deportation of "tens of thousands" from large areas of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, leading volunteers known as "Seselj's men."

Oreskovic was speaking on a visit to the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar, which was razed to the ground by Serb forces in 1991, at the start of the conflict.

Serb forces of the Yugoslavian National Army (JNA) took control of Vukovar on November 19, 1991.

Around hundreds of people took refuge in the town’s hospital for an evacuation by neutral observers following a deal reached by the Croatian government and JNA.

But about 400 individuals, including wounded patients, soldiers, hospital staff and Croatian political activists were removed from the hospital by JNA and Serb paramilitaries.

The Yugoslav war crimes court's chief prosecutor said pm Thursday that the victims of crimes committed in the Balkans wars "will be disappointed" after Seselj was acquitted on all counts.

"We fully understand that many victims and communities will be disappointed by the Trial Chamber’s judgement," UN prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in a statement.

TRTWorld and agencies