The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague is expected to gets its second look at former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic tomorrow. While the appearance is routine, it could resolve the question of whether or not Milosevic intends to appoint a defense lawyer. It may also provide further clues as to whether Milosevic intends to participate actively in the trial or resist the proceedings. RFE/RL correspondent Mark Baker reports.
Prague, 29 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is scheduled to make his second appearance tomorrow (30 August) before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
A spokeswoman for the tribunal prosecutor's office, Florence Hartmann, says that, ordinarily, status conferences -- as these appearances are called -- are routine events that allow the judge to gauge the progress of a case:
"[A] status conference is a meeting between both sides in front of the judge. It means between the defense and [the prosecution] about exchanges of documents, motions, whatever. And it's a technicality, usually."
But Hartmann says interest in tomorrow's appearance by Milosevic is keen, since it may reveal whether he intends to participate actively in the trial or continue to flout its jurisdiction. She says prosecutors also will be looking to see whether Milosevic is represented by a defense attorney or if he intends to represent himself:
"He's expecting to come without a lawyer and [we will know whether] he will take part in the proceedings or not. That is the question. We will know if he's refusing to take part and to defend himself."
Milosevic is accused of war crimes related to the mass murder and forcible expulsion of ethnic Albanians during the conflict in Kosovo. He was arrested by Serbian authorities at the end of March and forcibly transferred to the tribunal's detention center in Scheveningen, near The Hague, in June.
At his first court appearance on 3 July, Milosevic was defiant. When asked by presiding Judge Richard May if he wanted to hear the charges against him, Milosevic indicated he was not interested:
May: "Now, do you want to have the indictment read out or not?"
Milosevic: "That's your problem."
Milosevic implied at the time that he had no intention of participating in the trial since, in his opinion, the tribunal is not a legal body. He said that because the tribunal was set up by the 15-member UN Security Council and not by the UN General Assembly, it does not have legal authority.
Speaking before the court in July, Milosevic said:
"I consider this tribunal [to be] a false tribunal and indictments [to be] false indictments. It is illegal, being not appointed by [the] UN General Assembly, so I have no need to appoint counsel to [an] illegal organ."
Observers say they are not sure what to expect tomorrow.
Earlier this month, Milosevic's attorneys challenged the tribunal's legality in a Dutch district court. Lawyers claimed the tribunal is simply "a puppet court" of the NATO military alliance. They also argued that Milosevic's human rights were violated when he was forcibly transferred from Belgrade -- where he had been detained on domestic charges.
Lawyers for the Dutch state countered that the Security Council routinely acts in the name of the entire General Assembly and therefore was empowered to set up the tribunal. The court is expected to rule on the motion this week.
Terry Bowers is a former tribunal employee who is now a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. He says any defense based on the argument that the transfer was illegal is not likely to succeed.
Bowers says the Security Council granted the tribunal unique powers that supersede national jurisdictions. He says judges will probably maintain that, "Regardless of how Milosevic got to The Hague, he's here, and we have ultimate jurisdiction."
Milosevic hinted in a recent interview with American television (Fox) at how he might defend himself if he chooses to participate. He told the network that he never ordered troops to kill ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo, but that troops were under strict orders to eliminate what he called "terrorist groups."
Milosevic was later reprimanded by the tribunal for speaking to journalists while housed at the detention center -- which is strictly forbidden.
Tribunal prosecutors say they will also indict Milosevic for war crimes he may have committed during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, but they have not yet issued those indictments.
Hartmann today said those indictments likely will come in October:
"We'll come out with a new indictment, well, two new indictments against Milosevic -- one for Bosnia and one for Croatia -- in the next weeks or months. We said when he was arrested, we were expecting to come with -- to issue -- new indictments in October, and obviously we will keep those promises."
After the indictments are issued, Hartmann says prosecutors will ask the judge to unite all the charges and hold one trial.
It is not clear when the Milosevic trial will start, but people close to the tribunal say it is not likely to get under way before mid-2002 and could last as long as a year.