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ICTY orders independent investigation of witness intimidation at Seselj trial

A spokesperson for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] said Wednesday that the court has ordered [text, PDF] an independent investigation [press briefing] into allegations that members of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) [official website] intimidated and pressured witnesses in the trial of Vojislav Seselj [case materials; JURIST news archive], a Serbian politician and former president of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) [BBC backgrounder]. Spokesperson Christian Chartier noted that, following the independent investigation, due within six months, the court will determine if there are sufficient grounds to initiate contempt proceedings against investigators. According to statements sent to the court by Seselj, witnesses claimed that they were subject to sleep deprivation, pressured during interviews, blackmailed, threatened and offered illegal payments of money, and that their statements were not read before being signed. Chartier stated that the decision, not immediately publicized, was not made at the request of the defense, but was initiated by the court in June after alarming complaints by witnesses of intimidation. While not commenting on the current investigation, prosecutors have previously denied [AP report] allegations of witness intimidation.

In May, the ICTY appeals chamber affirmed the contempt conviction [JURIST report] of Seselj. Trial chamber II found Seselj guilty of contempt [JURIST report] last year for authoring a book revealing pertinent information about several key witnesses and sentenced him to 15 months in prison. The appeals chamber denied all eight of Seselj's grounds of appeal. Seselj's war crimes trial just resumed in January, after being delayed [JURIST reports] for nearly a year over fears that witnesses were being intimidated. He is currently being tried before trial chamber III on 14 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. The ICTY had previously stripped Seselj of his right to defend himself after he failed to appear in court, despite an earlier appeals court ruling that he could represent himself [JURIST reports] provided he did not engage in courtroom behavior that "substantially obstruct[ed] the proper and expeditious proceedings in his case." Seselj is accused of establishing rogue paramilitary units affiliated with the SRS, which are believed to have massacred and otherwise persecuted Croats and other non-Serbs during the Balkan conflict.

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