No court for old men?

21 April 2015 by Stephanie van den Berg, Belgrade (Serbia)

The on-going controversy over the provisional release of Serbian ultra nationalist Vojislav Seselj [IJT-179] from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has recast the spotlight on how courts deal with ailing accused. It also begets a fundamental question: what determines if someone is fit to stand trial?

A medical examining room at the ICTY (Photo: Flickr/ICTY)
Image caption: 
A medical examining room at the ICTY (Photo: Flickr/ICTY)

Seselj, awaiting judgement since his trial ended in 2012, was diagnosed with cancer when the court decided in November 2014 that, as a “humanitarian step”, it would let him undergo treatment in Serbia [IJT-170, IJT-171]. Judges noted that Seselj was not receiving the best care possible in the UN detention unit “not because it is not available but because of a serious disagreement with the caregivers on the medical procedure”.

Confident Seselj would return to The Hague to hear his verdict, the trial chamber, sought no guarantees. Instead, Seselj – appearing remarkably fit – went on a public speaking tour and repeated he would never voluntarily go back to the court.

Seselj’s circumstances are unique, but they stand in a long line of dilemmas facing international justice advocates. Even at the Nuremberg trials, defendants sought to be declared unfit to stand trial, including close Hitler ally Rudolf Hess, who feigned memory loss.

Public perception

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