In 1993, Judge Frederik Harhoff took part in interviewing a prosecution witness due to testify against Vojislav Seselj. This is why the prosecution considers he was ‘involved in the investigation’ which precludes him from ‘sitting as a judge in the same case’. The accused opposed the request accusing the prosecution of trying to gain time because it is not ready for the trial. The ICTY president will decide on Judge Harhoff’s fate

Frederik Harhoff, the Danish judge at the TribunalFrederik Harhoff, the Danish judge at the Tribunal

At the beginning of today’s session in the Vojislav Seselj trial, prosecutor Christine Dahl called for the withdrawal or disqualification of Danish judge Frederik Harhoff from the Trial Chamber assigned to hear the case against the Serbian Radical Party leader charged with crimes against humanity committed in Croatia, Vojvodina and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The reason for this unexpected request, the prosecution explained, was the fact that in 1993, Judge Harhoff participated – as an activist of the Danish Helsinki Committee – in interviewing Isak Gashi, due to testify as a prosecution witness in the Seselj case. As he was thus ‘involved’ in the investigation, the prosecution believes that Harhoff cannot ‘sit as a judge in the same case’. It would violate the principles of judicial independence and objectivity.

The accused Seselj opposed the request for the disqualification of Judge Harhoff, noting that the prosecution was only trying to gain time in order to prepare itself better for the trial. According to Seselj, the Helsinki Committee is not a judicial body but a non-governmental organization. As such, it didn’t conduct investigations, but merely did ‘political surveys’. The statements it took were not ‘relevant for the Tribunal’. As Gashi is supposed to give evidence about the events in Brcko and Bijeljina in the spring of 1992, and those were deleted from the final version of the indictment on the orders of the Trial Chamber, Gashi’s statement is ‘absurd’, Seselj contends.

Isak Gashi, former member of the Yugoslav rowing team, testified at the trials of Dusko Tadic, Slobodan Milosevic and Momcilo Krajisnik. In court, he had reservations about his ‘Danish statement’, claiming that it contained a lot of errors and things he never said. Through his evidence the prosecution wants to show a ‘pattern of conduct’ of the accused Seselj and the Serbian Radical Party volunteers in the spring of 1992 in the Eastern Bosnia.

Presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti will inform the ICTY president today about the motion for the disqualification of Judge Harhoff from the case. According to the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, the president can appoint a three-member panel to conduct an enquiry or he can appoint another judge in Harhoff’s place. The president can also dismiss the motion, and decide that the trial will continue before the same Trial Chamber. The decision is expected to be announced tomorrow as the Vojislav Seselj’s trial continues.