The U.N. war crimes tribunal on Thursday imposed two defense lawyers on Slobodan Milosevic (search) in an effort to end repeated trial delays and because doctors have warned that representing himself threatens the former Yugoslav strongman's health.
The tribunal's judges named British attorneys Steven Kay and Gillian Higgins, until now court observers ensuring fair proceedings, as Milosevic's defense counsels. They will take over the case from Sept. 7 when his first witnesses are due to be called.
The former Yugoslav president protested the decision to impose a lawyer on him and said he will appeal.
Judges and prosecutors agreed Milosevic could still name a lawyer of his choice — his legal research is being handled by three assistants from Belgrade — and that he could remain actively involved in conducting his defense.
"It is plain from the medical reports that the accused is not fit enough to defend himself," said presiding Judge Patrick Robinson.
Milosevic, 63, who has used the 2 1/2-year trial as a platform for his political views, has refused to accept a lawyer who would replace him in examining witnesses.
"I want the appeals chamber to consider this decision of yours, illegal, which violates international law , which violates every conceivable covenant on human rights," Milosevic told the judges.
"At a moment when I am supposed to exercise my right to defend, you decided to deprive me of that right. That's a scandal. You cannot deny me the right to defend myself," he said, seated alone at the defendant's table.
Robinson cut off Milosevic's microphone and said the judges had extensively considered their decision, which was final.
By a vote of 2-1, the court also rejected Milosevic's request on Wednesday for a new round of medical tests by independent doctors. Robinson dissented, saying the issue was too important to be left in any doubt.
Robinson said two court-assigned doctors who examined Milosevic concluded that he suffers "severe essential hypertension" and that continuing to represent himself could lead to "a potentially life threatening situation."
They said that by allowing him to continue representing himself "there is a real danger that this trial might last an unreasonably long time," Robinson said.
The judges recognized the right of a defendant to represent himself, but cited his lengthy periods of illness saying that right "is not unfettered."
The ruling was applauded by observers. "He will get a far better case by being represented professionally," said Judith Armatta of the Coalition for International Justice (search).
Milosevic's bouts of fatigue and high blood pressure already have caused the suspension of hearings more than a dozen times and the loss of 66 trial days during the presentation of the prosecution case, which concluded in February. Since then, the beginning of the defense was postponed five times due to his health.
After wrapping up the opening statement of his defense case Wednesday, Milosevic sparred with prosecutors who cited medical reports from last week that he was refusing to take prescribed medication.
Prosecutors Geoffrey Nice said Milosevic "is manipulating this tribunal" with his health problems, and urged the court to assign him a lawyer who could continue the defense when Milosevic is too ill to attend sessions.
"This is highly improper," Milosevic responded. "You do not take away somebody's right to self defense when he is sick."
Also Wednesday, another three-judge bench of the International Criminal Tribunal (search) for the former Yugoslavia acquitted a Bosnian Serb leader of genocide, but convicted him of eight other charges.
The verdict in the five-year trial of Radislav Brdjanin, wartime leader of the autonomous Krajina region of Bosnia, should encourage Milosevic, who also faces charges of genocide among more than 60 counts of war crimes.
Brdjanin, 56, a powerful Serb figure at the start of the Bosnian war in 1992, was convicted on eight of 12 charges and sentenced to 32 years imprisonment — a surprisingly lengthy term in view of the acquittals on the most serious charges related to genocide and extermination.
Despite a Serb campaign of mass murder, torture and deportations of non-Serbs, the court said the brutality fell short of genocide, which requires stringent proof the sole intent was to wipe out the Muslim and Croat communities.
The acquittal was a setback for prosecutors who placed genocide at the center of Milosevic's indictment. He is accused of responsibility for the deaths of more than 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the U.N.-protected enclave of Srebrenica in 1995.