Overriding the defendant's objections, the U.N. war crimes tribunal appointed two lawyers to represent former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic on Thursday, hoping to speed up his long-delayed trial and curb his courtroom theatrics.
The decision came after months of debate by the judges, who appeared wary of appearing to infringe on Milosevic's rights, including the right to defend himself, for fear of giving ammunition to opponents of the tribunal who have called the proceedings a show trial.
The judges said they finally were swayed by reports from two cardiologists last week warning that the defendant's life would be at risk if he continued representing himself in court.
"It is plain from the medical reports that the accused is not fit enough to defend himself," presiding Judge Patrick Robinson said. "Should he continue to defend himself, there will be further delays in the progress of the trial."
The decision was announced two days after Milosevic, representing himself, opened the defense phase of his trial after a two-year presentation of evidence by the prosecution.
He strongly denounced the judges' decision as a human rights violation. "At a moment when I am supposed to exercise my right to defend, you decided to deprive me of that right," he told the judges. "That's a scandal," he said, sitting alone at the defendant's table and continuing to speak until the judges shut off his microphone.
Robinson assigned defense duties to two British lawyers who had been serving as neutral observers and who frequently had intervened to support Milosevic's case.
The senior lawyer, Steven Kay, recently argued against forcing Milosevic, who is a trained lawyer, to have an attorney. "The imposition of unwanted counsel upon an unwilling defendant who refuses to cooperate may in fact lead to increased stress for the defendant, who continues to assert his right to self-representation," Kay wrote in a legal brief on Aug. 6. Milosevic must be free to choose self-representation "even if he knowingly risks his own health in the process," Kay added.
Milosevic's chronic high blood pressure and frequent bouts of flu and fatigue have set back his trial by about six months. It was interrupted more than a dozen times during the prosecution case, which concluded in February, and the start of his defense was put off five times, until finally beginning Tuesday.
Milosevic, 63, has used the 21/2-year trial as a platform for his political views, speaking for an audience of supporters watching the proceedings on television in his native Serbia.