Ex-Serb leader demands €12m compensation

Former deputy prime minister in custody since 2003 awaits verdict since 2012

A former deputy prime minister of Serbia, who has been in custody since 2003 when he handed himself over voluntarily to the UN-backed tribunal prosecuting war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, has demanded compensation of €12 million for unlawful deprivation of his liberty.

In a 57-page submission to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Vojislav Seselj, founder of the far-right Serbian Radical Party, says his detention is groundless and that he has suffered both defamation of character and damage to his health while on trial.

Seselj has pleaded not guilty to crimes against humanity – specifically, the persecution of Croats – in Croatia, Bosnia- Herzegovina and Vojvodina between 1991 and 1993, when he was allegedly associated with the paramilitary group, the White Eagles, also known as Seseljevci, or Seselj's Men.

The nationalist leader’s trial began in November 2006 and has never been straightforward. Although he planned to represent himself, he was on hunger strike in the UN detention unit at Scheveningen prison when the proceedings opened, and was assigned legal counsel to conduct his defence.


Seselj appealed that decision to assign him counsel and won. As a result, and at considerable expense, the trial had to be restarted a year later, only to be adjourned again in February 2009 when the prosecution alleged intimidation of a number of its witnesses.

In July 2009, Seselj – formerly a lecturer in political science at the universities of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Michigan in the US – was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for publishing the names of protected witnesses on his website.

Another year passed before the trial resumed again in January 2010 and the prosecution completed its evidence. Seselj did not put forward a defence case. Closing arguments were completed in March 2012.

Since then, of all those indicted by the ICTY, Seselj has had the longest wait between the completion of proceedings and the delivery of a verdict, with no sign that a decision is imminent.

On the other hand, there have been indications that the tribunal may be willing to grant Seselj temporary release, provided he remains in his apartment in Belgrade, essentially under house arrest pending a verdict.

On July 1st, the Serbian government said it was willing to give guarantees to the tribunal about Seselj’s security in Belgrade, but only if Seselj himself was willing to give a written commitment that he would abide by the terms of any temporary release agreement reached.

As a result, the Hague tribunal gave Seselj three days – until last Monday – to give that commitment. He failed to comply, arguing that he was now being held illegally and wishing to be released without conditions.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court