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Bosnia women win $745Mln verdict against Karadzic

NEW YORK, Aug 11, 2000 -- (Reuters) Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic should pay USD 745 million to a group of women who were brutally raped and tortured during his rule, a Manhattan federal jury decided on Thursday.

Neither Karadzic, who is believed to be hiding in Bosnia, nor his lawyers have appeared in court and it is uncertain whether the women can collect any of the money.

"We are going to do everything we can to find out where he has placed his assets," said Maria Vullo, one of the lawyers for the women. "The judgment gives us the ability to collect it. This judgment will be recognized by other countries."

Vullo, who works for the prominent Manhattan-based law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, would not say where lawyers believe they will uncover Karadzic's funds.

Regardless of whether money is collected, Vullo said that the verdict sends out an important message.

"This case established...rape is a form of genocide. It is an attack on a people...," Vullo said. "He's accountable for that."

Prior to the federal verdict, Karadzic was indicted for genocide by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

The jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon after an emotional trial filled with gruesome testimony by witnesses who had suffered excruciating beatings and tortures with everything from lit cigarettes and large sticks to fish hooks.

The women were then brutally raped and further humiliated after the attacks by being forced to make coffee for their attackers. They were also forced to clean the blood off the walls from their own and other prisoners' beatings.

"They're very brave, wonderful and dignified ladies who deserve justice for the indignities they suffered," a juror told reporters after the verdict.

Last week, one witness fainted on the stand as she described her rape and torture in 1992. The woman said that soldiers wearing photographs of Karadzic dragged her and her two children from their house and said she was being singled out because she was a Bosnian Moslem.

After the verdict was read in the courtroom and the jury stood to leave, the plaintiffs clapped. The women later joined the panelists in the jury room where they shared hugs and tears.

"One person commented, this is why Karadzic did not want to come to America for this case because of his fear of the American jury," Vullo said.

The case was brought by 12 individuals and three survivor groups representing Croat and Moslem citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, formerly the Republic of Yugoslavia. They alleged they suffered various atrocities carried out by a Bosnian Serb genocidal campaign during the Bosnian civil war.

The complaint alleged that Karadzic, in his capacity as president, had authority over the military forces and that the injuries were part of a pattern of systematic human rights violations that he directed.

A broader civil suit against Karadzic, which was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, is scheduled for trial before the same judge on Sept. 11.

Both cases were filed under the Alien Tort Act, enacted in 1789, that creates federal court jurisdiction for suits alleging civil wrongs committed anywhere in the world against aliens in violation of the law of nations.



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