On December 8 2020, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals requested once again that the Serbian authorities arrest and extradite, without further delay, Serbian Radical Party officials Vjerica Radeta and Petar Jojić, so that they can be prosecuted for contempt of the court charges. Radeta and Jojić are indicted for interfering with witnesses in the proceedings against Vojislav Šešelj by having threatened, blackmailed and offered bribes to witnesses in order to persuade them to change their statements or not to testify.
In April 2018, the proceedings against Vojislav Šešelj before the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) were concluded with appellate judgment, convicting him only for the count of the indictment relating to Hrtkovci. He was acquitted of charges for crimes against non-Serb population in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the period from August 1991 until September 1993.
The trial against Šešelj started in November 2006. In March 2016, the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) acquitted him of all counts of the indictment by the first-instance judgment. However, by the judgment of April 2018, the IRMCT convicted Šešelj to the imprisonment of ten years for the persecution and instigating persecution of Croats from Hrtkovci, Vojvodina.
The proceedings were accompanied by various forms of contempt of the Tribunal by the accused, for which he was sentenced to two-year imprisonment. The Tribunal found that Šešelj failed to remove confidential data relating to the proceedings from his website and that he revealed the identity of 11 protected witnesses in the books he published. On two more occasions, he was convicted for contempt of the Tribunal and sentenced to the imprisonment of 15 and 18 months.
However, convicted Šešelj was not the only one who tried to compromise the proceedings. His close associates, Vjerica Radeta and Petar Jojić were charged by the ICTY with contempt of the Tribunal because during Šešelj’s trial, they were threatening, intimidating, offering bribes and otherwise inferring with two witnesses. 1 Jovo Ostojić, Serbian Radical Party (SRS) official, was also charged, but he passed away in 2017, for which reason proceedings against him were terminated.
Vjerica Radeta, Vice President of the Serbian Radical Party, was a member of Šešelj’s legal team during the proceedings. In the previous composition of the Serbian Parliament from 2016 to 2020, she was elected a Deputy Speaker.
Petar Jojić, also an SRS official, was a member of Šešelj’s legal team, as well. He was an MP several times. At the moment, he is a deputy in the assembly of the City of Pančevo.
During the Šešelj case, the ICTY issued a legal decision titled ‘Order in lieu of the indictment’ on October 30 2012, charging Radeta and Jojić with contempt of the Tribunal. Three years later, on January 19 2015, arrest warrants and related transfer orders were issued and sent to the authorities in Belgrade.
In the Order in lieu of the indictment, it is stated that the accused, during Vojislav Šešelj’s trial, contacted two Prosecution witnesses. One of the two witnesses was asked to change the statement he made to the Prosecutor’s Office in favour of the defence, for which he was offered help by the accused Vjerica Radeta. The SRS was paying him monthly payments of EUR 500 until the end of his testimony. During the proceedings for contempt of the Tribunal against Šešelj, he was also given a summary of questions Šešelj would ask him in the courtroom; he had to give the answers he previously memorised.
The other witness, who also collaborated with ICTY Prosecutor’s Office, soon came into contact with Petar Jojić, who told him that Šešelj’s defence knew he was collaborating with the Prosecution, but that he had to give a ‘little statement’ to them, as well. Jojić then dictated him the statement which was untruthful in that it contained false allegations against the Prosecution and falsely presented Šešelj’s role and responsibilities during the war. The witness had to sign the statement he did not even read and was promised that he would be receiving monthly payments from the SRS. The witness also suffered enormous pressure from SRS officials who were persuading him not to stop collaborating with them, as well as to quit his job and keep regularly receiving payments from the SRS. This witness was also given the document with questions to be asked by Vojislav Šešelj in the courtroom, as well as the answers he was told to give in reply.
Since the Republic of Serbia failed to execute the arrest warrants and related transfer orders, although it was legally obliged to do so, on January 13 2016 ICTY Trial Chamber rendered an order demanding Serbian authorities to report monthly on its efforts to execute previous orders.
On May 18 2016, Milan Dilparić, judge of the Higher Court of Belgrade, ruled that, according to Article 29 of the Law on Cooperation of Serbia and Montenegro with the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991, only persons charged with core offences from the jurisdiction of the International Tribunal, which offices do not include contempt, may be arrested and transferred.
The Trial Chamber responded to this decision of the judge of the Higher Court of Belgrade and asserted that states are obliged to co-operate with the Tribunal in relation to “any request for assistance”. Further, although the crime of contempt is not a crime set out in the Statute, the Tribunal’s jurisprudence has been firmly established that the jurisdiction of the Tribunal extends to the crime of contempt of court (case Prosecutor v. Milan Vujin). Finally, ICTY Statute inherently incorporates within its jurisdiction the crime of contempt and specifies that the obligation of states to co-operate extends to matters pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of the crime of contempt. In that respect, the Republic of Serbia may not refer to its domestic legislation in order to justify its failure to comply with its international obligations.
However, authors of the publication Haške nedoumice (The Hague Perplexities) stress that ICTY has often been criticized for such ‘arbitrary’ extension of its jurisdiction, especially in foreign academic circles. The critics of such extension of jurisdiction find that this is in violation of one of the basic principles of international law, according to which international bodies can only have the jurisdiction expressly assigned to them through international documents. On the other hand, the authors find the position of ICTY, according to which efficient functioning of the court would be to a great extent compromised if it were not allowed to perform this ‘self-protecting’ function, that is, to act in the cases of disruption of justice, correct.
In the case of Serbia, it is important to stress that in at least three cases relating to the contempt of the Tribunal, legal assumptions have not been an obstacle for arresting and transferring the accused for this crime to the ICTY. Thus, in the case of Jelena Rašić, and then of Dragomir Pećanac and Ljubiša Petković, the court found that legal assumptions for the extradition of the accused were met, and consequently Serbian authorities executed the arrest warrants and extradited the three accused for contempt to the ICTY.
Since the Republic of Serbia still did not fulfil its international obligations at that moment, on October 5 2016, the ICTY Trial Chamber decided to issue international arrest warrants against the accused.
Only several months following the issuance of the international warrants, on February 14 2017, the Trial Chamber decided to contact the Interpol and request the issuance of red notices.
According to its mandate, the ICTY was closed at the end of 2017. For this reason, on November 29 2017, a decision was made to transfer the case to the IRMCT.
The IRMCT took the jurisdiction for this case on January 18 2018 and the Amicus Curiae Prosecutor was appointed on February 5 2015. According to Judge’s decision of February 15 2018, the authorities in Belgrade were given a period of 30 days to declare themselves with regard to their “jurisdiction, willingness and readiness to accept trial in this case.”
Thirty days later, on March 14 2018, Serbian Justice Minister Nela Kuburović informed the public that Serbia responded to IRMCT’s request, and said that “having in mind the state of facts from the Tribunal’s order, criminal legislation of the Republic of Serbia and regulations governing the provision of mutual legal assistance, the assumptions have been fulfilled for competent prosecutor’s office to take over prosecution of the said persons”. Judge Aydin Akay ruled on June 13 2018 that Radeta and Jojić would be transferred for trial in Serbia with a possibility of appeal.
However, Liu Daqun, as a single judge, stated in his submission of February 8 2019 that “there is no prospects” for the trial to take place in Serbia since witnesses relevant for this case are “categorically” unwilling to testify in the proceedings in Serbia due to fears for the safety of themselves and their family members, including fear of being killed or seriously physically harmed.
On March 14 2019 Serbian authorities filed a submission claiming that prosecutor’s arguments were ‘unfounded’, ‘erroneous’ and ‘arbitrary’, that there was not valid reason prohibiting the conduct of the trial in Serbia, and that witness protection in Serbia was at a high level, able to tackle all possible challenges.
New international arrest warrants and related transfer orders were issued in the form of conclusion on May 13 2019. As it is stated in the conclusion, conditions for referral of the case to Serbia were not met and such decision was made in the interest of justice.
On February 24 2020 IRMCT Appellate Chamber rendered a final decision to prosecute the accused in The Hague regardless of the appeal lodged by the Republic of Serbia on June 4 2019. In response to IRMCT’s request to report on actions conducted with regard to the execution of the arrest warrants, on August 13 2020 the Republic of Serbia submitted that at the time of the offence, Serbia’s obligation of co-operation applied to serious violations of international humanitarian law, and that the Higher Court of Belgrade decided that the requirements for arrest and extradition of the accused were not fulfilled.
Vjerica Radeta, in her statements to media after this decision, stressed: “Petar Jojić and I are protected from the extradition to The Hague mechanism by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia and by final and enforceable ruling of the Higher Court of Belgrade, which decided that there were no legal grounds for our extradition”.
Although ten months have passed since the decision of the Appellate Chamber to try the accused before the IRMCT, Radeta and Jojić have not been arrested and surrendered to the Tribunal yet. In the submission of December 8 2020, judge Liu Daqun concluded that it was appropriate to reiterate the request to the Republic of Serbia to arrest the accused and hand them over to the tribunal in The Hague without further delay.
Photo source: N1info.com