On June 7, 1990, the Supreme Court affirmed an appellate court decision allowing a civil suit to continue against Radovan Karadzic, the self-proclaimed leader of Bosnian Serbs, for war crimes, genocide, torture, and other violations of international rights standards.
This is considered by the international human rights and women’s community to be a significant victory and means that a U.S. courtroom may soon be the venue where those responsible for the systematic rape of thousands of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be brought to justice.
After the lower court dismissed the case, lawyers for the plaintiffs–two anonymous Bosnian women who had been raped and brutalized, and all the similarly situated–argued forcefully before the appellate court in June 1995 that the trial must be allowed to continue. In October 1995 the federal appellate court agreed, ruling that certain abuses (such as genocide and war crimes) violate international law and that since Karadzic was describing himself as a head of state and committing the atrocities in the name of “Srpska” he was bound to obey international law.
The initial suit was filed in February 1993 in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, by CCR, the International Women’s Human Rights Law Clinic of CUNY law School, and the International League for human Rights. It charged the self-proclaimed leader of the Bosnia Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, with war crimes, genocide, torture and other violations of international human rights standards. Karadzic was served with legal papers when he was in New York City.
The suit utilized the Filártiga principle to address a horrifying feature of the vicious genocidal war in Bosnia-Herzegovina organized mass rape by Serb forces in Bosnia, who have used rape as a calculated tactic of the war’s notorious “ethnic cleansing.” Although rape has been a devastating facet of virtually all armies in all wars–and of peacetime as well–the reports of rapes and forced pregnancies in Bosnia indicate the intentional infliction of sexual abuse on an appalling scale.
This case received considerable attention, building upon an international movement to force recognition of women’s rights as human rights and to incorporate protections against violence against women into the international human rights framework. In fact, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at the Hague emphasized for the first time in July 1996–no doubt at least partially the result of pressure from the international human rights and women’s communities in conferences in Vienna and Beijing–that rape committed in times of conflict was, indeed, a war crime.
The plaintiffs are two anonymous women survivors of the aggression in Bosnia-Herzegovina who filed the suit anonymously out of fear for their safety. They represent all women and men who have suffered rape, summary execution, other torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment inflicted by Bosnian-Serb military forces under Karadzic’s command and the control between April 1992 and the present.
Plaintiffs have demanded that Karadzic answer questions and produce documents about his role in the human rights atrocities committed by Bosnian Serbs. At this writing, the case is before the trial court and could go to trial. Or Karadzic could refuse to continue, in which case a default judgment could be issued against him. In either case. the judicial process will serve as an opportunity to present in public in formal record of the atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In the spring of 1996, CCR learned that some Bosnian refugees have been threatened, allegedly by people supporting the genocide. CCR is working with their advocates to develop a strategy to identify and prosecute those in the U.S. so that the county may actually be a safe haven for refugees, and not for torturers.
Beth Stephens, Matthew Chachere, Jennifer M. Green, Peter Weiss, Michael Ratner, Jose Luis Morin, Jules Lobel and Ray Brescia; with Rhonda Copelon and Celina Romany of the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at CUNY law School; Harold Hongju Koh and Ronald C. Slye Yale Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic; Sara Moss, Aaron Marcu, Jay Lobell and Judy Levin of the International league for Human Rights.