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

Tribunal Takes Pressure Off Milosevic

Prosecutors seek ways of accelerating genocide trial, but defendant’s health problems mean it will take longer.
By Chris Stephen

The Hague war crimes tribunal has put Slobodan Milosevic’s genocide trial on a three-day week, after hearing reports of his failing health.


Judge Richard May said medical reports indicated “hypertension with steep rises in blood pressure. He displays symptoms of exhaustion and fatigue, combined with raising of blood pressure to unacceptable levels”.


The September 30 decision means the trial could stretch to 2007.


Milosevic has spent the last two weeks out of court due to illness, and has missed more than two months of his trial through sickness.


Prosecutors asked the judges to consider measures to speed the trial up, including sending video evidence to Milosevic’s cell and imposing a defence counsel on him. The accused has refused a court-appointed lawyer, saying he does not recognise the trial, although he has a legal team based in Belgrade.


Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice said that Milosevic’s sickness have cost the court 157,000 US dollars in air fares and hotel bills for 38 to 40 witnesses who have had to be sent home, only to come back again when the defendant was well. “One witness certainly has been sent back twice,” said Nice.


He said that if Milosevic had been fitter, the prosecution case would have taken far less time than the 18 months since it opened in February 2002.


Nice also asked the court to consider a smoking ban on Milosevic.


“It is our understanding from a source that smoking is an aggravating factor and that the cessation of smoking would help,” he said. “The advice I got was that an elimination of smoking brings about an immediate reduction of risk.”


But Stephen Kay, Milosevic’s amicus curiae, said the defendant – who was not present in court – could not be blamed for his poor health, and must continue to be given a fair trial.


“He is not engaged within a process of disruption or boycott,” said Kay, whose job is to assist the court in ensuring Milosevic has a fair trial.


Kay said using video evidence would change little, because witnesses would still have to appear in person to be cross-examined. And giving Milosevic video recordings to watch will count as working, rather than rest time.


Kay said that he thought Milosevic would refuse a lawyer, “He states [this] from the perspective that he does not recognise the legitimacy of the tribunal. It gives us an understanding of whether he would cooperate with anyone imposed [on him]. The chances are nil in my view that he would co-operate with anyone opposed to him.”


He also said that the former Serbian leader should be allowed to represent himself, “As you know the accused has a right to defend himself. When you choose to be represented by a lawyer you give up that right. In many respects it’s a very trusting right. The accused plainly does not wish to pay that more passive role.


“It is perfectly understandable that a man in that position – given the allegations against him – would trust in his own judgement, his own skills, his own knowledge of the affairs of former Yugoslavia.”


Judge May, announcing the three-day week, said judges would now consider further measures.


Chris Stephen is IWPR’s project manager in The Hague.