UN war crimes judges order probe of allegations prosecutors intimidated witnesses

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

War crimes court orders probe of prosecutors

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Yugoslav war crimes judges have ordered an independent investigation into allegations the U.N. court’s prosecutors intimidated witnesses through threats, sleep deprivation and other tactics, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The probe was ordered following claims of intimidation by witnesses testifying in the trial of ultranationalist Serb politician Vojislav Seselj, spokesman Christian Chartier said. Seselj is accused of inciting atrocities by Serb paramilitaries during the Balkan wars in the early 1990s, allegations he denies. He has vowed to turn his trial into a circus.

Seselj sent judges statements in which witnesses, whose names were not released, claim “sleep deprivation during interviews, psychological pressuring, an instance of blackmail … threats, or even illegal payments of money,” according to the decision.

Judges have asked for an independent investigator to be appointed and said they want a report within six months on whether there are grounds to launch a contempt case against any prosecution office staff.

It is the latest twist in a case that has dragged on since Seselj turned himself in to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 2003. The former ally of late-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and leader of the opposition Serbian Radical Party has in the past held up his trial with a hunger strike and insulted the judges and a lawyer appointed by the court to represent him.

Chartier said judges ordered the investigation in late June after they “became alarmed” at claims by witnesses they were intimidated. He said the order was not immediately publicized because of legal wrangling about its contents.

Judges said in their ruling that they refuse “to allow any doubt to fester” that Seselj’s rights were abused or that the prosecution’s investigation techniques were improper.

Seselj first complained of intimidation in March 2007 and judges said at the time they would only rule on the claims after his trial. However the witness claims of intimidation led them to reconsider that decision and order the probe.

Prosecutors declined comment on the investigation. They previously denied the allegations and accused Seselj of witness intimidation.

Seselj, who has described himself as “the chief enemy” of the court, was convicted last year of contempt for revealing the name of a witness whose identity had been suppressed by judges.

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