Serbian Nationalist Leader Convicted of Hate Speech, 10-Year Sentence Served

(Bloomberg) -
Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj speaks in the Serbian Parliament in Belgrade, Serbia, June 2016. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

A new international tribunal declared Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj guilty on three counts of crimes against humanity, including hate speech, partially overturning his 2016 acquittal and sentencing him to 10 years in prison, the time he’s already served.

The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, which replaced the Hague Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, reversed Seselj’s acquittal in part and found him guilty of “instigating deportation, persecution (forcible displacement) and other inhumane acts (forcible transfer) as crimes against humanity,” it said in the judgment. The 10-year imprisonment sentence was declared served.

The final judgment read by presiding judge Theodor Meron also found that the trial chamber “erred” in not holding Seselj responsible for a speech he gave in Hrtkovci, in Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina in May 1992 when he was “calling for the expulsion of the non-Serbian population.”

In 2016, the judges cleared the nationalist party leader of nine counts including the murder and deportation of non-Serbs, a verdict that ignited outrage among victims. Amnesty International welcomed the conviction.

“Today’s decision is a welcome development which delivers long-delayed justice to thousands of victims of the armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia,” Amnesty International said in a statement Wednesday. “Despite the fact that the Appeals Chamber cleared Vojislav Seselj of other war crimes, it is significant that it found there was indeed a ‘widespread or systematic attack against the non-Serbian civilian population in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

The leader of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party surrendered to the Netherlands-based tribunal in 2003 to face judgment over alleged crimes against humanity. He was released from detention in 2014 because of deteriorating health. Unlike Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the most prominent Serbian figures to have been sentenced, Seselj was not tried for genocide.

Since Seselj’s 2014 return to Belgrade, his party has returned to parliament, and he’s replaced his wartime calls for reunification of all Serbian territories with anti-European Union rhetoric. He has also campaigned for a possible alliance with Russia, Serbia’s most powerful ally in blocking worldwide recognition of an independent Kosovo.