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Serb nationalist war crimes defendant refuses to appear for trial

[JURIST] Serbian war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj [BBC profile; ICTY case backgrounder] failed to appear in court Monday as his trial began at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. The court subsequently stripped Seselj of his right to represent himself [press release] and summoned court-appointed defense lawyers to represent him. Seselj, who has been on hunger strike [JURIST report] for two weeks, also skipped a pre-trial hearing last week. According to the ICTY:

In coming to its decision, the Trial Chamber considered various factors: the conduct of the accused especially in the period since the Appeals Chamber's decision of 20 October 2006, the warnings that have been issued to the accused by the Chamber during the status conferences on 8 and 22 November 2006 and by the Appeals Chamber in its decision, the fact that the accused has failed to respond to the Trial Chamber's invitation of 22 November to make submissions regarding his conduct and the question of his legal representation, as well as the fact that the accused persists in not taking food and that he persists in being absent from the proceedings. Finally, the Chamber concluded that the accused's self-representation in the course of the period since ... 20 October 2006, "has substantially obstructed the proper and expeditious conduct of the proceedings" and found that "permanent assignment of counsel to represent the accused... is at this point justified".
An ICTY appeals panel ruled in October that Seselj could represent himself [JURIST reports] during trial, but warned that future courtroom antics would not be tolerated. During a pre-trial hearing earlier this month, Seselj was removed from the courtroom [JURIST report] for disrupting proceedings whenever the court-appointed lawyers attempted to speak.

Seselj was indicted by the ICTY in 2003 and charged [indictment, PDF] in connection with his role in establishing rogue paramilitary units affiliated with the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party [party website, in Serbian]. Those units are believed to have massacred and otherwise persecuted Croats and other non-Serbs in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Seselj has pleaded not guilty to the charges, five of which were dropped [JURIST report] by the ICTY earlier this month. Reuters has more.

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