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Serb war crimes defendant refusing medical attention for hunger strike

[JURIST] Serb nationalist war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj [BBC profile; ICTY case backgrounder], who has been on hunger strike [JURIST report] for close to three weeks, has forbidden staff of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] to force feed him, provide medical treatment or resuscitate him should it become necessary, the tribunal said Thursday. Seselj, who has been refusing food for 21 days, was transferred to a Dutch prison hospital [JURIST report] adjoining the tribunal's detention center [ICTY backgrounder] at Scheveningen near The Hague Wednesday so that his medical condition could be more closely monitored. According to an ICTY press release:

Seselj, who continues to drink water, has been declining food and medical care since 11 November 2006. Nonetheless, he has throughout had contact with a Dutch doctor who works with inmates at the Tribunal's Detention Unit. However, Seselj has maintained that he will not be treated by this or any other doctor of Dutch nationality.

In response to his refusal to allow Dutch doctors to assess his medical condition the Tribunal has sought to identify with Seselj a doctor or doctors whom are agreeable to him. Seselj advised the Tribunal that he would agree to doctors from a number of countries, including France and Serbia. Today, Seselj refused to meet with a French doctor who had traveled to the Dutch prison hospital specifically to assess his medical condition. While taking this measure, the Tribunal has also requested both Seselj and those he identifies as his associates to name a Serb physician or team of doctors that is acceptable to him. To date, Seselj has not provided any name despite the Tribunal's willingness to accommodate his request for medical assistance of his choosing, in accordance with Rule 31 of the Tribunal's Rules of Detention. ...

The reasons provided by Seselj for his refusal to accept food have been various and changing. A number of requests he has made in pre-trial proceedings have been addressed by the Tribunal's Registry including unmonitored visits by his wife, the facilities to be made available for the preparation of his defence and recognition of his legal associates. But he has also made other less publicized demands, such as that the Tribunal approach a foreign state in order to unfreeze assets he holds in overseas bank accounts.

Faced with a shifting group of demands, the Tribunal has sought from the outset to protect Seselj's human rights. It has entered into extensive dialogue with him and endeavoured to impress upon him that the proper forum for many of his complaints is before the court where they will be given a fair and impartial hearing according to the highest standards of international law. Contrary to misinformation in some media where it is alleged that Seselj is isolated in a Dutch prison hospital, the situation is that Seselj enjoys frequent contact with the hospital and the Detention Unit staff, as well as unimpeded 24-hour access to a telephone.

The Tribunal is committed to securing all rights guaranteed to Seselj by the Tribunal's Statute and Rules of Procedure and Evidence. However, Seselj has chosen to persist with a course of action that has seriously jeopardized his health and attempts to impede the Tribunal in its exercise of its duty of care.
In a November 24 document, Seselj asked that tribunal staff refrain from taking life-saving measures, including transferring him to a Dutch hospital or performing an autopsy. ICTY spokesperson Refik Hodzic acknowledged [ICTY press conference summary] Wednesday that hospital staff will perform a "medical intervention" if there is a "medical necessity" to save Seselj's life. Seselj's ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party [party website, in Serbian] said Thursday that Seselj was moved against his will [press release] and that he had been initially prevented from contacting his defense team.

When Seselj went on hunger strike in early November, he demanded [statement, DOC] that the ICTY dismiss his court-appointed lawyers and allow him to conduct his defense to nine war crimes charges [indictment, PDF]. Since then, the court stripped Seselj of his right to defend himself [JURIST report] after he failed to appear in court. Seselj's lawyers said Wednesday that their client had decided to continue boycotting his trial against their advice [JURIST report]. AP has more.

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