War crimes court in witness probe
UN court to investigate claims prosecutors intimidated witnesses in trial of Serb leader.
Last Modified: 18 Aug 2010 20:01 GMT
Seselj is on trial for his alleged role in the persecution of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serbs [AFP]

The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal has ordered an investigation into claims that prosecutors intimidated witnesses in the trial of Vojislav Seselj, a nationalist Serb leader.

Judges at the UN court in The Hague referred to statements by witnesses alleging "sleep deprivation during interviews, psychological  pressuring, an instance of blackmail, threats or even illegal payment of money".

"The [trial] chamber ordered the registrar to appoint amicus curiae [a Latin term meaning 'friend of the court'] to look into the allegations," Christian Chartier, a spokesman of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said in a statement on Wednesday.

Chartier said the individual would report to judges within six months as to "whether there were sufficient grounds to initiate contempt proceedings" against investigators in the office of the prosecutor (OTP).

He said that four candidates, who have not been involved in the trial in The Hague, were being considered for the job and a decision was expected "relatively soon".

Witness 'poisoned'

"Certain witnesses who appeared after this trial opened, when testifying before the chamber, referred to pressure or to attempts to intimidate to which they were subjected by investigators for the prosecution as well as to irregularities during their preliminary interviews," documents released on Wednesday said.

One witness said he and his family were subjected to "tremendous pressure" to give a statement, including 30 to 50 telephone calls a day.

Some said the contents of their statements did not match their words, another was allegedly threatened by investigators that they would "continue questioning him until he signed".

One witness said "the prosecution had told him that if he testified, after that he could go to America, that he would get a good salary and would get money".

Another alleged he was poisoned.

"The chamber obviously took these allegations very seriously and decided that it would be wrong to leave any space for doubt arising either on the protection of the rights of the accused or on the investigation techniques by members of the OTP," Chartier said.

Seselj is standing trial for his alleged role in the persecution of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serbs and their expulsion from areas of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia between 1991 and 1993.

He has himself been the subject of two procedures for contempt of the court for allegedly revealing the names of protected witnesses.

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