Prague, 6 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Judges are expected to rule as early as today on how to proceed with Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes trial in The Hague after the start of his defense case was postponed due to a worsening of his health.
Judges delayed proceedings yesterday over concern about the former Yugoslav president's blood pressure and heart complaints and said they will rule on a demand to impose a defense counsel on Milosevic, who has so far defended himself.
Judge Patrick Robinson said the trial needs a "radical review.” "The time has come for a radical review of the trial process and the continuation of the trial in the light of the health problems of the accused," he said.
If Milosevic's health worsens the trial may have to be stopped, perhaps allowing Milosevic to walk free.
Milosevic's bouts of high blood pressure, flu, and exhaustion have frequently delayed the two-year-old trial.
The 62-year-old Milosevic faces charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes from the 1990s wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Kosovo. He has repeatedly stated that he does not recognize the court.
He has also declined to enter a plea to the charges, which he says are politically motivated.
Since the prosecution wrapped up its case in February, Milosevic has been working on his own defense from an office with a computer, fax, telephone, and filing cabinets in the tribunal's detention center.
Milosevic yesterday said his health had worsened because the court would not allow him enough time for preparation.
"Such a deterioration [in health] is the result of your decision not to give me enough time for my preparation,” he said. “That is quite clear. Therefore, it is my opinion that you are duty-bound to give me adequate time."
Prosecutors yesterday suggested that the court impose a lawyer on Milosevic to ease his workload and set up a video link to the detention unit so that he can follow the trial from his cell. He rejected the suggestions.
Judge Patrick Robinson's remarks regarding a need for a "radical review" have been interpreted as suggesting a tougher line in trying to keep the case on track.
Experts say there are few options open to the judges.
Legal expert and tribunal watcher Heikelina Verrijn Stuart told RFE/RL that imposing a lawyer on Milosevic would pose huge difficulties for the trial: "Imposing a counsel is the only solution, and that will be a huge problem in itself, because Milosevic has said several times that he would refuse counsel, that he won't cooperate with them. And in this Anglo-Saxon [legal] system, the defense counsel needs instructions from the defendant, and if he doesn't get it, their hands are tied. They can't defend the accused. So, practically speaking, it won't be a solution, but it's the last thing the judges can try."
Verrijn Stuart says that if Milosevic's health worsens, the trial may have to be stopped, perhaps allowing Milosevic to walk free: "If you want to show the world that at this stage, in The Hague, you can get a fair trial, this is part of it -- you won't stand trial if you're not [healthy] enough. So, even if the public opinion would react negatively, and even if it would be bad for the former Yugoslavia, for the victims, for everybody who spent a lot of time and energy in this trial, there will be a moment when judges have to stop, and it will be because they think it's unfair to continue."
Steven Kay, a lawyer appointed by the court to ensure Milosevic gets a fair trial, has also suggested the trial may have to be stopped altogether if the health of the accused does not improve.