THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Appeals judges at the U.N. war crimes tribunal ruled Monday that Slobodan Milosevic (search) should regain the right to act as his own defense lawyer, but said he must accept a standby lawyer in case he becomes ill.
The written ruling by the five-judge panel essentially reverses a decision by trial judges to impose a court-appointed lawyer on the former Yugoslav president, saying that "when he is physically capable of doing so, Milosevic will take the lead in his case."
But the ruling said an appointed lawyer must remain on standby if Milosevic's "health problems resurface with sufficient gravity."
Milosevic is charged with more than 60 counts of atrocities, including genocide, allegedly committed during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia (search) in the 1990s.
He defended himself during the trial's first 2 1/2 years. But persistent health problems — he was often ill with the flu or suffered symptoms of high blood pressure — frequently brought the trial to a halt.
In September, the trial judges, citing Milosevic's deteriorating health, appointed British lawyer Steven Kay to defend him — a move Milosevic protested.
Independent doctors said he was at risk of a heart attack if he continued.
But the system proved all but unworkable when Milosevic refused to speak to Kay or participate in the proceedings.
Kay, who had observed the entire trial as a "friend of the court," could only find four defense witnesses — almost all of Milosevic's other scheduled witnesses refused to come to The Hague unless the former president was allowed to defend himself.
In October, Kay asked to quit, saying that trying to defend a hostile client was an impossible task.
People were "kidding themselves, making believe that what is happening here is a proper defense," Kay told appeals judges.
Prosecutors had urged the judges not to let Milosevic resume defending himself, saying his politicized statements show he is unfit as a lawyer, and his reappointment would lead to more delays because of his ill health.
Milosevic is now expected to resume presenting arguments that ignore the charges against him and claim the trial is politically motivated by his enemies in the United States, United Nations and NATO.