In December 1997, U.S. District Court Judge Peter K. Leisure granted plaintiffs” motion for class certification in this civil suit against Radovan Karadzic, the self-proclaimed leader of the Bosnian Serbs, for war crimes, genocide, rape, torture, and other violations of international human rights standards. This is only the second human rights case brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act to be certified as a class action.
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 repeatedly tortured during his three-month detention at Omarska concentration camps other plaintiffs include widows of men who were tortured and killed in the camps.
The class action suit utilizes Filártiga principle to charge Karadzic with 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-Serb forces of rape, forced pregnancy and other forms of sexual violence as a tactic of war, genocide and “ethnic cleansing.”
After the suit was filed in 1993, Karadzic was indicted by the International Criminal tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. (ICTFY) for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and is currently the subject of an international arrest warrant. He has remained at large, including time in Bosnian Serb territory, where he has continued to exert power behind the scenes.
The case was an important initiative and part of the international women’s movement to force recognition of women’s rights as human rights. The role of rape as an element of war–as the sexual enslavement of “comfort women” by the Japanese Army–is too often overlooked. sexual assault survivors and women’s rights advocates had worked at recent international conferences in Vienna and Beijing to highlight rape as a war crime.
Karadzic was first served with legal papers by CCR, the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic of CUNY Law School (IWHR), and the international league for Human Rights in February 1993, when he was in New York City purportedly to negotiate an end to the war. At one point, the suit was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction by the district court, but then reinstated by the appellate court in October 1995 in a landmark opinion extending the Alien Tort Claims Act to include war crimes by non-state actors. the court held that Karadzic, who did not represent a state government, could be held liable as a “de facto” state for human rights violations. The Supreme court rejected the defendant’s challenge to the ruling in 1996.
Karadzic was finally ordered by the U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman in February 1997 to return to New York for a deposition, and to produce documents and answer questions regarding the claims against him. Judge Henry Pitman also ruled that Karadzic’s fear of arrest was not a legitimate reason for him to avoid traveling to New York or outside the so-called “Republika Srpska,” where he has been hiding from 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.
Jennifer M. Green, Bill Goodman, Gabor Rona, Michael Ratner, Beth Stephens, Matthew Chachere, Peter Weiss, José Luis Morín Jules Lobel, Ray Brescia: with Rhonda Copelon and Celina Romany of the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at CUNY Law School; Harold Hongju Koh and Rosa Ehrenreich of Yale’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic; Aaron Marcu, Jay Lobell, Cynthia Soohoo and Margaret Donohue; Judy Levin and Paul Dubinsky of the International League for Human Rights.