Doe v. Karadzic – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket Fall 1997

The stage appears to be set for a default judgment in a civil suit against Radovan Karadzic, the self -proclaimed leader of the Bosnian Serbs, for war crimes, genocide, torture  and violations of international human rights standards. Subsequent to the filing of this case, Karadzic was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague (ICTFY) and is the subject of an international arrest warrant. he has not been arrested and continues to exercise power behind the scenes in the Serbian part of Bosnia.

Karadzic’s default came in response to a court order requesting him to appear for a deposition in New York. As part of discovery, plaintiffs requested that Karadzic produce certain documents, answer interrogatories, and be available in new York to provide pre-trial testimony in a deposition. In response, Karadzic claimed that he had no documents and that furthermore, he could not come to New York for fear of being arrested and turned over to the International Tribunal.

Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman ruled on February 3, 1997 that Karadzic must surrender documents forthwith of present satisfactory explanations why he could not do so. he also ruled that Karadzic’s fear of arrest was not a legitimate reason for rescheduling the deposition to avoid he traveling to new York or outside of the so called “Republika Sepska” where he has been shielded form international arrest.

Shortly after this opinion was issued Karadzic informed the court through his attorney that he would henceforth no longer respond to any communications concerning this case, thus setting the stage for a default judgment.

The case has had dramatic ups and downs since it was originally filed in February 1993 in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of new York by CCR, the International Human Rights Women’s Clinic of CUNY Law School (IWHR) and the International league for Human Rights. Karadzic was served with legal papers in 1993 when he was in new York City purportedly to negotiate an end to the war.

At one point, in fact, the suit was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction by the district court but then reinstated by the appellate court in October 19995 in a landmark opinion that extended the Aliens Tort Claims Act to encompass war crimes committed by non-state actors. The court also held that Karadzic, who did not represent a state, could be liable under the doctrine of “de facto” state for human rights violations.

The Suit utilized the Filártiga principle charging genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, summary execution, and torture including rape and other forms of sexual violence. It gives particular attention to the use  by Bosnian-Serbs forces of rape, forced pregnancies and other forms of sexual violence as a tactic  of war, genocide and “ethnic cleansing.”  Although rape has been a devastating aspect of many wars–e.g., the sexual enslavement of comfort women by the Japanese Army–it is often ignored.

This case is an important initiative and part of international women’s 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. As a result, ICTFY has charged rape as a grave war crime, a crime against humanity, and a form of torture–not simply” degrading treatment.”  These developments are the result of the work of survivors communities and women’s rights advocates in the recent international conferences in Vienna and Beijing–that rape committed in times of conflict was, indeed, a war crime. They are also a consequence of continuing monitoring  andinterventions by these movements in which CCR and IWHR have played a significant role.

The Plaintiffs are 10 women and men survivors of the aggression in Bosnia- Herzegovina who filed the suit anonymously out of fear for their for their safety. One plaintiff alleges that she was raped by at least eight Bosnian-Serb soldiers while in custody in a detention camp. Another alleges she was forced to serve as a sexual slave to a Bosnian-Serb soldier during the occupation of her town and, as a result of repeated rapes, became pregnant. A male plaintiff was detained for three months at the Omsrska concentration camp, where he was repeatedly tortured. Other plaintiffs include widows of men, who after being tortured in concentration camps, were killed. An amended complaint and motion for class certification were filed in summer 1997.

Plaintiffs 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 present.

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.