Doe v. Karadzic – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket Fall 1995

In June 1995 CCR attorneys forcefully urged the Second District Court of Appeals in New York to reverse a lower court’s dismissal of this case, an attempt to bring to justice these responsible for the systemic rape of thousands of women in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

More than two years ago, in February 1993, CCR. joined by the International Woman’s Human Rights Law Clinic of CUNY Law School and the International League for Human Rights, sued the self-proclaimed  leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, for war crimes genocide, torture, and other violations of international human rights standards. The class action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. Karadzic was served with legal papers when he was in New York City.

Brought in the name of two anonymous Muslim women, the suit utilized the filartiga principle and sought to address a horrifying feature of the vicious civil 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 and all wars–and of peacetime as well–the reports of rapes and forced pregnancies in Bosnia indicate 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 issue of rape as torture has been raised by women’s groups all over the world. especially following the 1993 U.N. conference on Human Rights in Vienna, and was an issue at the Beijing Conference on women, too, in February 19995 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) issued its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti which discussed war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity and indicated that “rape represents not only inhuman treatment…but is also a form of torture…”

The named plaintiffs are two anonymous women citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Jane Doe I, a 16 year-old girl, alleges that she was raped by at least eight Bosnian-Serbian soldiers– and then beaten and slashed with a knife–while in custody in a detention camp. Jane Doe II, an 18 year-old woman was forced to watch the rape of her mother by two Bosnian soldiers. The two women 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 control between April 1992 and the present.

In May 1993 Karadzic’s U.S. attorneys asked the court to dismiss the suit, claiming that he is immune from prosecution because he was in the participate in U.N.-sponsored negotiations. CCR maintained that neither the U.N. nor the U.S. government recognize such an immunity and the international law requires that human rights abusers such as Karadzic be held accountable.

On September 7, 1994, the district court judge dismissed the suit on the grounds that the court did not have jurisdiction over the legal issue of whether international law norms can be applied to the actions of an “unrecognized” government such as the Bosnian-Serbs.

At the argument in June 1995 before a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, CCR attorneys urged the court to vacate this decision, citing Filartiga and arguing that the federal courts do indeed have jurisdiction over claims of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and torture committed in the former Yugoslavia. They requested that the Court of Appeals send the case back to the District Court for trial.

A decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals is pending.

Beth Stephens, Matthew Chachere, Jennifer M. Green, Peter Weiss, Michael Ratner, Jose Luis Morin, Jules Lobel, Ray Brescia, Rhonda Copelon and Celina Romany, Judith Levin