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War crimes

ICTY removes judge from Vojislav Seselj's war crimes trial

The international court set up to try war crimes suspects from the former Yugoslavia has removed a judge from the trial of Serbian nationalist Vojislav Seselj after a letter from the judge was leaked to the media.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced on Thursday that it had disqualified Danish Judge Frederik Harhoff from adjudicating at the trial of Serbian ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj. It said a special panel or chamber of three judges appointed to consider Sesejl's request for Harhoff's removal had voted 2-1 in favor of the disqualification.

"The Chamber found... that Judge Frederik Harhoff had demonstrated an unacceptable appearance of bias in favour of conviction," a statement posted on the ICTY's website said.

Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, is accused of using speeches to encourages Serbs to commit atrocities against the Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia between 1991 and 1994. He has represented himself during the trial, which began in 2007. Seselj had turned himself into the ICTY in 2003.

"We're not completely sure what will happen," ICTY spokeswoman Magda Spalinska told the AFP news agency. "We have to look at the rules."

The original three-judge panel had been scheduled to deliver a verdict in Seselj's case on 30 October. In their closing statements last year, prosecutors had asked for a 28-year-sentence.

Judge mailed 50 recipients

Seselj had applied to get Harhoff taken off the case after a letter that the judge had sent to more than 50 people became public in June.

In the letter, Harhoff had criticized what he termed a "departure from the previous 'set practice' of convicting military commanders," and cited the acquittals of two former Croatian generals, a Serbian general, and two Serbian security officials. He also said he had heard that the ICTY's president, American Judge Theodor Meron had put pressure on other judges to approve the acquittals.

Harhoff raised speculation that the “military establishment in leading states such as USA and Israel” were imposing pressure on the court due to concerns that precedents could be set leading to convictions of their own citizens.

He said the recent rulings showed that the bar for convicting senior officials had been raised, meaning that “intention to commit crime had to be specifically proven.”

In doing so, Harhoff said, the ICTY had taken “a significant step back from the lesson that commanding military leaders have to take responsibility for their subordinates' crimes.”

pfd/ipj (AFP, AP, dpa)