Rape = Genocide

A federal jury ordered former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to pay $745 million to Bosnian Moslem women who were raped and tortured under his orders. The August 10, 2000, decision came after an eight-day trial in a U.S. District Court in New York. Catharine MacKinnon, attorney for the women, says that this case “is the first to establish rape as a form of genocide.” By some estimates, 20,000 or more Moslem women were raped by Serbian men from 1991 to 1995 during the war in former Yugoslavia.

The judgment is on behalf of the 12 women and two victims’ organizations who filed the suit in 1993, using two federal statutes that allow international human rights crimes to be prosecuted in U.S. civil courts. Winning a civil case like this is momentous, MacKinnon explains, because it “holds Karadzic accountable to his victims directly. This is not some official entity or state intervening to say he broke a rule. This is the women that he hurt holding him accountable to them for genocidal rape.”

“Our next step is to focus on his assets,” says Maria Vullo, MacKinnin’s co-counsel. “An American judgment will be recognized in other countries,” she explains, and those countries will help in locating and freezing Karadzic’s assets. Karadzic is at large, believed to be hiding in Bosnia.

Whether the women collect the money or not, they have found the legal struggle more than worth their while. “It is really historical. The amount of money awarded was so large — it expresses, by how big it is, [the severity of his crime],” says Nusreta Sivac, one of the women plaintiffs.

Nusreta Sivac and Tesna Elezovic, both survivors of the infamous Omarska concentration camp, talked to Ms. after the decision was made. Elezovic exclaims, “We got him! He installed terror legally, and we got him legally. We have gained our dignity, to win over such a monstrous leader. His evil power seemed so absolute, but now for the first time it is not so absolute.”

Sivac and Elezovic were also among the first to present testimony to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, leading to the indictment of Karadzic and others. Their 1995 testimony helped convince the court that rape had been used as a military tactic and should be prosecuted as a war crime.

“Every woman who testified said it was so that this doesn’t happen in the future,” says Aida Daidzic, representative of Biser, one of the two victims’ organizations. Elezovic adds, “We are not doing this just for us or for Bosnian women, but for all the women of the world. We always knew that rape was a form of genocide, because it was done all over Bosnia and Herzegovina at the same time. It was so systematic. And now the court has said it was a form of genocide.”

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