Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Milosevic Wants Treatment Break

Prosecution say defendant’s request for provisional release timed to have maximum disruptive effect.
By Michael Farquhar
In the latest twist in the saga surrounding the health of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, his assigned counsel have requested permission for him to be provisionally released in order to be treated at a specialist medical institute in Moscow.



At the last hearing in the trial before the court entered its winter recess, Milosevic made a surprise verbal request to be allowed to spend some of the break receiving treatment in Russia.



Presiding Judge Robinson said the request would not be considered unless the court was provided with a formal written submission.



Despite his health problems, Milosevic insists on carrying out his own defence, with the court sitting only three days a week, to provide a sufficient rest period for the accused.



He was assigned counsel, Stephen Kay and Gillian Higgins from the UK, in September last year, to relieve him of some of his burden. These lawyers have submitted the application on his behalf.



The application says that his “long standing history of ill-health and recent cocheovestibular [relating to the ear] complications” mean that he has to have treatment at a specialist hospital.



The hospital in question is the Bakoulev Scientific Center for Cardiovascular Surgery in Moscow, which is the biggest cardiovascular unit in Russia and has a high international reputation for its work, where the head, Dr L A Bockeria, has agreed to supervise Milosevic’s treatment.



The lawyers argue that there is a “genuine and proven medical condition”, and that “the accused’s current condition was neither originally discovered, nor treated appropriately, by the Registry-approved doctors and consultants”.



The prosecution has filed its opposition to the request, saying that it was “timed so as to have maximum disruptive effect” on the court case and is “consistent with an underlying purpose to delay or defeat the conclusion of this trial”.



Detailed medical reports are contained in confidential annexes. What little is quoted presents a picture of the depth of disagreements between doctors appointed by the tribunal and the experts brought in by Milosevic himself.



These differences include a failure to agree on what Milosevic is suffering from, whether his two conditions – chronic high blood pressure and a disturbance to his hearing – are connected, whether the current treatment is adequate and whether additional rest would help.



Dr Paul van Dijkman, the tribunal’s doctor, is quoted as describing the six week rest period recommended by the visiting specialists – which has been granted by the court – as an “arbitrarily chosen period, for which in my view, no firm reasons were given”.



The defence submission suggests that Milosevic is suffering from a “cerebral venous circulation disorder” due to “uncorrected hypertension”.



The additional hearing disturbance was confirmed by tests from a tribunal-appointed medical specialist, which “observed perceptive hearing loss on both sides”.



The prosecution describes the medical reports as “incomplete” and say they provide “no definitive findings as to the Accused’s true medical condition, what treatment he requires and what the outcome of any treatment may be”.



The conclusions of the specialist team are supported by Dr Bockeria, who asked the president of tribunal to grant a period of treatment of “not less than 1.5 - 2 months”.



Milosevic’s lawyers also argue that his “anxiety” about the diagnosis is “both rational and well-founded” and that it is not unreasonable for him to ask to be treated by medical specialists in whom he trusts.



Jonathan Widell, a commentator of tribunal affairs for the Serbianna website, points out that the issue of the accused’s health has become part of the battle between defence and prosecution.



“Anytime you hear anything about Milosevic's health, you can be sure that there is some kind of spin to it,” he told IWPR.



The prosecution suggests that the court may decide that Milosevic suffers from a genuine medical condition; that to some extent it is “a fraud”; or that it has been “partly brought about by his own conduct” – by leading his own defence and spurning the help offered by assigned counsel.



The prosecutors also point out that they have had no opportunity to ask their own medical experts to examine the accused, nor have they had access to his medical records.



They say there is no evidence to show why Milosevic should not be treated in the Netherlands.



It is not clear when the defence application would be ruled on, as the court is now on its winter break. And the Milosevic trial is only due to resume on January 23.



In anticipation of possible prosecution objections, Milosevic’s lawyers suggest that as their client is “instantly recognisable and well known. He is 64 years of age and suffering from ill health. The likelihood of him ‘going on the run’ is an unrealistic proposition”.



In further arguments, they say that Milosevic would be highly unlikely to be able to pose any danger to victims or witnesses and that the conditions at the Bakoulev center would provide sufficient safeguards to ensure he appeared for trial. They say that they are in the process of obtaining guarantees from the Russian authorities.



The prosecution suggests that, considering Milosevic’s openly expressed contempt for the tribunal, he should first provide “a personal guarantee” that he recognises its legitimacy and agrees to return.



The prosecution also lays out, in a provisional form, some of the reasons why guarantees from the Russian authorities may not be sufficient, saying that if such assurances were obtained, the prosecution would wish to present a new submission on the issue.



The prosecution lists all the accused who had taken refuge in Russia - and whom Moscow had failed to locate there – and, in particular, points to the current difficulties the tribunal is experiencing in getting a lower-level accused, Dragan Zelenovic, who was arrested in Russia in August, transferred to The Hague.



The prosecution also points out that the accused’s “wife, brother and son are all reportedly now resident in the Russian federation”.



Questions are bound to be raised about what effect an extended period of hospital treatment would have on the trial – which has been running since February 2002.



Jonathan Widell says that the trial chamber faces a crucial dilemma, “How to keep Milosevic in the detention centre until the sentencing without letting him die there.”



“Until now,” he said, “its strategy has been to hurry up the trial, but that only seems to make things worse.”



In recent weeks, judges had considered the possibility of breaking the proceedings up into more manageable parts. But they ruled instead to stick to the current timetable, neither providing the prosecution with extra hours to introduce more evidence, nor for the defence in which to present additional witnesses.



According to the judges, at the current rate, the defence case should be finished by March 2006, and all initial court proceedings by the middle of the year.



Michael Farquhar is an IWPR reporter in London.