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ICTY acquits Serbian nationalist Seselj of all Balkan war crimes

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Thursday acquitted [order, PDF] Vojislav Šešelj [website], president of the Serbian Radical Party and former Assembly member of Serbia, of all crimes against humanity and war crimes [press release] in connection with the Balkan war. Šešelj faced three counts of crimes against humanity including persecution, deportation and inhumane act of forcible transfer, and six counts for war crimes including murder, torture and cruel treatment, wanton destruction, destruction or willful damage done to educational and religious institutions and plunder of public or private property. The focus of the ICTY judgment was primarily on a series of incriminating speeches made by Šešelj in the concerned period. While the court majority acknowledged that these speeches were in fact made by Šešelj, it stated that there was a reasonable possibility, "that these speeches were made in a context of conflict and were meant to boost the morale of the troops of his camp, rather than calling upon them to spare no one." The majority also stated that it was, "unable to find beyond all reasonable doubt that, in calling upon the Serbs to 'cleanse' Bosnia of the 'pogani'; or the 'balijas', Vojislav Šešelj was calling for ethnic cleansing of Bosnia's non- Serbs." As to charges of actual commission of war crimes, the court found the prosecution's evidence weak. Judge Flavia Lattanzi, in her dissent [partial dissenting opinion, PDF], took strong exception to these and most other views expressed by the majority and severely criticized the majority for relying on "irrelevant considerations to exclude Vojislav Šešelj's responsibility." In a somewhat uncharacteristic move, the ICTY office of the Prosecutor subsequently released a statement [text] that it will review the reasoning behind that of the judgment and the dissent and determine whether there are grounds of appeal.

The ICTY [JURIST backgrounder] and the Balkan States continue to prosecute those accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity that left more than 100,000 people dead and millions displaced during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. In May 2015 the ICTY ordered [JURIST report] Serbia's justice ministry to return Šešelj to his detention cell immediately after he was released in February [JURIST op-ed] to return to Serbia for cancer treatment. The ICTY had revoked his provisional release [JURIST report] in March because Šešelj spoke at a news conference in Belgrade and stated [WSJ report] that he would not return voluntarily to the Hague.

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