The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has found Vojislav Seselj – leader of the Serbian Radical Party – guilty of war crimes against Croatians in Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina during the war in former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
Seselj responded to the verdict on Wednesday by announcing on Twitter he was “proud of all my war crimes” and was “ready to repeat them again”.
Поносан сам на све своје ратне злочине и спреман сам да их поновим!
— VOJISLAV SESELJ (@seselj_vojislav) April 11, 2018
Since Seselj has spent eleven and a half years in custody in The Hague since 2003, his sentence has already been served, the court said.
The tribunal found Seselj guilty of inciting hate crimes with his nationalist speeches. One speech he gave to a Serb crowd in May 1992 sparked atrocities against ethnic Croats in Vojvodina.
The verdict marked the first conviction by an international tribunal for inciting crimes through speeches.
In 2016, the war crimes tribunal initially acquitted Seselj of all nine charges he faced, but that was partially overturned on appeal.
The court reaffirmed the establishment of a “Greater Serbia” was Seselj’s political goal, but that that did not constitute a crime.
‘A free man’
It also maintained its ruling from the first verdict in 2016, that there was not enough evidence to prove a systematic attack was organised by Seselj against Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims).
“From today, Vojislav Seselj is a free man,” Al Jazeera’s Adnan Rondic reported from The Hague.
“The conclusion from two years ago still stands – that there was no proof that Seselj was responsible for sending Serbian volunteers to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia with the aim of committing crimes.”
In March 2016, in a 2-to-1 vote, the UN war crimes tribunal had found Seselj innocent of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Judge Flavia Lattanzi held the opposing view and said the conclusions reached by the other two were unfounded.
Prosecutors in 2016 appealed for a guilty verdict or a retrial and asked for Seselj to be handed a 28-year sentence, arguing that the majority of judges made so many errors that they “invalidate the judgment as a whole”.
Marko Attila Hoare, a historian of the Balkans and associate professor at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, said the prosecution should not have targeted him when there were more important perpetrators who were never indicted.
“It was important that he was convicted, particularly since all the other suspects from Serbia indicted over Bosnia were either acquitted or died before their trials were completed or begun,” Hoare said.
“I hope Seselj is sufficiently humiliated by the low sentence; it at least marks him down as a second- or third-ranking player, which he was. He was a loudmouthed attention-seeker who made himself infamous to the international public in the 1990s by his extreme statements, and certainly relished the publicity of being indicted and tried.”
Since his temporary release from detention in The Hague in 2014 for cancer treatment, Seselj returned to politics and is a parliamentarian. He has lead numerous nationalist rallies since then and is a frequent guest on Serbian talk shows.