An especially horrifying feature of the vicious civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina is the systematic rape of thousands of women. Serb forces in Bosnia 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.
In February 1993, CCR, joined by the lnternational Women’s Human Rights Law Clinic of CUNY Law 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.
This case has received considerable attention, as it builds upon an intenmtional 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.
The class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, relies on the precedent established in Filártiga v. Peña-Irala. Karadzic was served with legal papers when he was in New York City.
The named plaintiffs are two anonymous women citizens of Bosnia Herzegovina. Jane Doe I alleges that she was raped at least eight Bosnian-Serb soldiers while in custody in a detention Camp. Jane Doe II witnessed the rape and murder of her mother by two Bosnian-Serb 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.[n 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 U.S. to participate in U.N.-sponsored negotiations. CCR maintained that neither the U.N. nor the U.S. government recognize such an immunity and that international law requires that human rights abusers such as Karadzic be held accountable. The judge’s decision is pending.
In the meantime, the issue of rape as torture has been raised by women’s groups all over the world, particularly the international caucus of women’s NGOs at the June 1993 U.N. Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.
After participating in this caucus, CCR attorneys travelled Lo Zagreb, Croatia, and Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where they met with refugees, U.N. relief workers, and with activists in feminist and peace organizations, a tiny embattled community who are organizing around the principle of ”justice, not revenge.” Croatian feminists have been vilified as “witches” by the Croatian press because they have condemned the rape of women by Croatian as well as Serbian forces. Serbian peace activists have been arrested and beaten. Nevertheless, Women in Black, a feminist non-nationalist peace organization continues to demonstrale weekly in Belgrade.
Two amicus curiae, or friend of the court, briefs have been filed urging the court not dismiss Doe v. Karadzic. One was submitted by Human Rights Watch and prepared by the law firm of Debevoise Plimpton, while the second was prepared by the law firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow for the International Human Rights Law Group. Amici include women’s groups in Portugal, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Bosnia, England, Pakistan, and the U.S.
Beth Stephens, Matthew Chachere, Jennifer M. Green, Peter Weiss, Michael Ratner, Jose Luis Morin, Jules Lobel and Ray Brescia; and Rhonda Copelon and Celina Romany , International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at CUNY Law School; and Judith Levin, International League for Human Rights.