Published September 15, 2004
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Stalled by reluctant witnesses and an uncooperative defendant, judges in Slobodan Milosevic's (search) war crimes trial adjourned the proceedings for a month Wednesday to give the former Yugoslav president's court-appointed lawyers time to prepare their case.
At least 20 of Milosevic's witnesses, including high-level foreign politicians, have refused to show up since the court limited Milosevic's ability to mount his own defense, British attorney Steven Kay told the tribunal.
The judges rejected Kay's request to give Milosevic the first right to question witnesses in the courtroom and to let him lead his own defense.
Kay asked for an adjournment while an appeals chamber weighed his request to return that right to Milosevic, who had represented himself since his trial began in February 2002.
The judges stripped Milosevic of his role as defense attorney after two cardiologists reported last month that his chronic high blood pressure could be life-threatening under the continued stress of defending himself.
"At the moment, we've got the worst possible of all worlds," Kay said. "We are in a position of trying to make it work, and we are very concerned about the presentation of the defense case without cooperation and, in fact, in circumstances of hostility."
Kay said he and his assistant, Gillian Higgins, had stopped trying to directly contact witnesses. Milosevic has refused to see lawyers appointed two weeks ago against his will to represent him.
Milosevic, 63, faces 66 counts of war crimes for his alleged criminal role in atrocities committed during the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia (search) in the 1990s. His defense is based on the argument that Serbs were defending themselves against rebels and terrorists in Croatia (search), Bosnia (search) and Kosovo (search).
Kay said his team had contact information for just 48 of the 1,631 names provided by Milosevic as potential witnesses. Three witnesses were called during the first two weeks of the defense case, but witnesses from the United States, Canada, Russia and France have protested the court's decision to impose lawyers on Milosevic.
Milosevic read in court what he said were letters from foreign diplomats refusing to testify. One allegedly wrote that he did not "want to be a part of this travesty of justice," while another was quoted by Milosevic as saying the hearings were "inherently unfair" and he would be willing to appear at The Hague only if Milosevic was allowed to present his own defense case.
"I insist you give me back my right to defend myself," Milosevic told Presiding Judge Patrick Robinson.
Milosevic has rejected offers to ask supplementary questions after his lawyer concludes his examination of the witnesses, saying he would not serve as "Mr. Kay's assistant."
Kay argued that the proceedings could move forward if the court allowed Milosevic to be the first to question the witnesses, followed by himself. But the judges refused, citing medical reports that Milosevic was unfit to take charge of the defense.