UN tribunal appoints three lawyers to assist Milosevic in war crimes trial

Thursday, September 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ The U.N. tribunal appointed three veteran defense attorneys Thursday to assist former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who has refused to appoint counsel to defend him against war crimes charges in Kosovo.

The three lawyers _ a British, a Yugoslav and a Dutch attorney _ have all appeared before the tribunal in earlier cases for defendants who ultimately were convicted.

The attorneys were to act as ``friends of the court,'' not as defense counsel. Although they will not represent Milosevic, they are assigned to ensure that rights and interests are protected so that he gets a fair trial, the court said.

Milosevic, who has made two confrontational appearances before the court since his transfer to The Hague on June 28, has said he considers the court illegal and refuses to recognize its right to try him.

The team of lawyers will be led by Steven Kay, a Briton, who helped represent the first defendant to be tried by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, Dusko Tadic.

Mischa Wladimiroff, a Dutch lawyer who worked with Kay on the Tadic case, also was named to sit on Milosevic's bench. Tadic was sentenced in 1997 to 20 years imprisonment, but both Kay and Wladimiroff withdrew from the case before its conclusion in a dispute with their client.

The third lawyer is Branislav Tapuskovic, the head of Serbia's bar association for the past 18 months. Tapuskovic represented Zdravko Mucic, a Bosnian Croat who fired Tapuskovic during his trial. Mucic was sentenced in 1998 to seven years in prison.

In Belgrade, Tapuskovic told the Associated Press the appointed lawyers ``are not going to make concessions to the court.''

Tapuskovic said the concept of friend of the court does not exist in Yugoslavia, and appeared uncertain of his role. ``We certainly must take care that rights of the defendant are protected,'' he said. ``Nothing must be done that would infringe rights of the defendant.''

The instructions of the court require the lawyers to prepare pretrial motions, to make submissions or objections during trial testimony, and to point out any mitigating evidence that could help Milosevic. They would not initiate a defense strategy.

At Milosevic's latest hearing last week, the prosecution asked the three-judge panel to override Milosevic's objections and assign him a defense attorney. But the court ruled that Milosevic, who has a law degree, is entitled to represent himself.

Milosevic, who ruled Yugoslavia for 13 years, is charged with crimes against humanity and other violations of international law in Serbia's repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999.

Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has said she will submit two other indictments next month for crimes allegedly committed during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, including charges of genocide in Bosnia. The trial is not expected to begin until late next year.