Danish judge removed from Serb leader's UN trial

AP News
Posted: Aug 29, 2013 6:25 AM

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal has removed a Danish judge from the long-running war crimes trial of Serbian nationalist Vojislav Seselj, saying in a decision published Thursday that a letter the judge wrote criticizing the court makes it appear he is biased.

It was not immediately clear what effect the ruling will have on Seselj's trial, or other trials the judge, Frederik Harhoff, took part in. The three-judge panel had been scheduled to deliver a verdict in Seselj's case Oct. 30.

Tribunal spokeswoman Magda Spalinska said the court's vice president will now have to make a decision on how the Seselj case should continue.

Seselj's trial on charges of using hate-laced speeches to encourage Serb rebels to commit atrocities in Bosnia and Croatia began in 2007. He denies the charges.

Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party, surrendered to the Hague-based United Nations court more than a decade ago, saying he would make a mockery of the case against him. In closing statements last year, prosecutors demanded a conviction and 28-year sentence.

However, after Harhoff's letter leaked into the public earlier this year, Seselj demanded he be removed from the trial, saying Harhoff appeared biased toward convicting Serbian leaders.

In the letter, Harhoff wrote that it was "more or less set practice" at the tribunal to convict military commanders for crimes committed by their subordinates and lamented recent judgments that eroded the practice by acquitting senior commanders.

He also wrote that he had always "presumed that it was right to convict leaders for the crimes committed with their knowledge."

By a 2-1 majority, a panel of judges established to rule on Seselj's request said that the letter's contents mean "an unacceptable appearance of bias exists."

Harhoff did not immediately respond to the decision.

However, his position at the court now appears untenable. Even a Chinese judge who disagreed with the decision to remove Harhoff was scathing about the letter.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Liu Daqun described the letter as, "an inarticulate critique of the recent jurisprudence of the Tribunal based on unsubstantiated speculations and insinuations of improper conduct by other colleagues in a fashion that is unbefitting of a Judge."